International students were left disappointed last Friday, after an address by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on how Australia plans to help their international student community.
The PM stated on camera yesterday that international students had provided the government with a guarantee that they had the financial ability to support themselves during the first 12 months of their stay. As such, “there is the alternative for them to return to their home countries.”
Hours after, a petition for the PM to formally apologise to all international students and visa holders surfaced, with many international students voicing their discontent with the government’s remarks. The petition description reads, “His cruel and ignorant remarks represent no one. We ought to expect more from a person in his position.”
In addition to the comments made by the PM yesterday, a press release was uploaded on the Home Affairs website with information for international students and visa holders.
Previously, international student’s working hours had been extended from 20 to 40 hours earlier this month to support labor demands in aged care, nurses and major supply chains such as Woolworths and Coles.
But these hours will revert back on 1st of May in exception to roles in aged and nurses to allow more Australians to be recruited in these roles.
Jasmine Crane, an international student from England who is studying counselling said that although she is happy the work restrictions have been lifted to help Australia out in such a crisis, it is ‘bittersweet’.
“Students with these incredible skills are asked to help, but then we’re also not being properly supported. However, what’s to say Australians can fill those roles in May? Will our restriction remain lifted?”
Abhimanyu Sharma, an international student studying at Holmesglen Institute believes the Australian government keeps immigrants and international students at the frontline of the crisis but fails to provide proper care.
“They put us on the borders, in the trenches against the virus when it spread out and in those desperate times but when it’s all coming under control, all [our] jobs are lost [because] Australians are getting into the workplace now because it’s getting under control,” he expressed.
Many students are now voicing their feelings and discouragement by the way the government has chosen to address the situation.
In an interview with SBS, international student Sunday Mishu, studying at Charles Darwin University agreed that it was right for the government to prioritise their citizens but said they didn’t understand how hard it is for students to suddenly go home.
“We’ve already paid our fees, so if we choose to leave, what are the consequences?” Mr Mishu stated in his interview.
Ms Crane had a similar sentiment, stating “It’s not that easy to “just go home”. The British embassy in Canberra released a special link to flights that were scheduled to fly back to the UK at an extortionate price of $15,000. It’s simply not worth it.”
“What he’s said worries me a lot and brings a lot of uncertainty to my future, to study in Australia isn’t exactly cheap – and it would have been such a loss of money. Is he going to refund every single student who hasn’t completed their course?” she added.
Other countries, such as India have released press releases to address their students studying abroad, advising them to stay put to ensure the safety of the broader public.
Peak bodies involved have also banded together to call for better treatment of international students.
The Council of International Students (CISA) stated their disappointment over international students being othered and asked to leave at such a vulnerable time.
“International students are taxpayers too. They have rallied in support of Australia during the bushfire crisis and many are in the frontlines of fighting COVID-19 and doing their part to support the community. However, the remarks made are very discouraging for all the students who are struggling daily and were hoping for some support from the government,” they stated.
In line with that, the National Union of Students (NUS) has deemed comments made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to be “disgraceful”.
“The government can no longer fall back on the rhetoric that it has operated on for decades – that Australian Citizens are the only ones who deserve help and people from overseas can just go back to where they came from if they need support.”
“It’s hurtful, divisive and does nothing to help the stranded students. Scott Morrison has once again shown that he is completely out of touch. He needs to act to support students,” they stated.
Both the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association (NATSIPA) and the Union of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Students (UATSIS) have condemned the comments made, and are standing in solidarity with the international student community and peak bodies.
Some universities have started welfare packages for students but at this time, most education institutions are not responding to the demands by international students to reduce fees as they’ve taken classes online.
International student Kusal Pant studying in Melbourne looks towards the Canadian government as a good example. He believed that the Australian government should learn from them.
The Canadian government recently announced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit which is available to international students if they meet the criteria of having lost a job due to Covid-19 impacts.
When asked about what support she would like to see from the Australian government, Ms Crane said, “I have no expectations for the government, this isn’t a thing they come across on [a] daily basis, it’s a pandemic situation. Of course he wants to make sure Australians are protected first, I think that’s what all prime ministers around the world will be doing.”
However, she says that even though students have the means to support themselves it’d be nice to have a bit of support.
“I’m not asking for government handouts or money, or help with tuition fees. It’d just be nice to be shown a bit of empathy from the government. It’s a tough and scary situation, we’re so far away from our family and it’d be nice to see that support from the Australian government, a nod of thanks to our international student key workers and to make us feel like we’re doing the right thing by staying.”
Meld strongly advises international students to abide by social distancing practices during the Covid-19 pandemic.