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COVID-19: Support for International Students in Top Study Destinations

Clara Ho

Fri May 15 2020


With more than 5.3 million students studying abroad, international students contribute more thanUS$300 billion to the global economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed travel restrictions and financial challenges to international students; who live as a temporary resident, receiving less support than local residents in the host country.

How are the governments of the world’s top study destinations supporting them through this pandemic?

How has COVID-19 impacted international students 

While some international students have decided to return home despite all obstacles, others have decided to stay on in their host country.

International students are affected by travel restrictions, employment difficulties, financial stability and attending online classes from various time zones.

As they wait out the pandemic, international students around the world are anxious about the lack of support networks they would normally get in their home country. 

Universities in the US and Canada have closed their dormitories, forcing students to look for a place to stay. This leaves many international students feeling isolated and financially strapped.

International students in the UK are uncertain about the effectiveness of the government’s public health strategy

Similarly, in Australia, international students are concerned about the support from the government to help them navigate through this pandemic.

Assistance to international students 

United States 

The US is home to an estimated 1.1 million international students. 

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can provide special relief for F-1 (student) visas as evidenced in previous outbreaks and is awaiting for Homeland Security to issue the notice. The US government also announced a US$6 billion fund that will be distributed to universities nationwide to provide emergency cash grants to any students affected by the pandemic. 

While most universities are moving classes online and clearing out dormitories to limit the spread of the virus, all universities pledged to help international students to find alternative housing

United Kingdom

Scotland, along with Universities in the UK such as De Montfort University, have launched hardship funds for all students who have been negatively financially impacted by the pandemic. 

International students who were employed before COVID-19 are eligible in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which provides up to 80 per cent of their usual wage capped at £2500 per month. 

International students who are in self-isolation impacted by the travel ban will have their visas extended until 31 May 2020. This allows students who are finishing their studies soon to switch to a Tier 2 (General Worker visa) while remaining in the UK. 


The Australian Government has relaxed restrictions on international students who are employed by supermarkets and are enrolled in nursing, allowing them to work beyond the limited 40 hours per fortnight from 29 March to 1 May.

International students who have been in Australia for more than 12 months can access their Australian superannuation (retirement savings) if they are facing financial hardship from 20 April onwards. 

Australian universities are providing bursary packages, emergency grants, support for electronic equipment and push back in census dates to support students that are affected by the pandemic. 

State governments have stepped into supporting international students with Victoria announcing a A$45 million relief grant on 29 April, which provides a A$1100 one-off payment to international students who have lost their income due to COVID-19. 

New Zealand

Similar in Australia, The New Zealand Government has relaxed restrictions on international students who are working in the healthcare and supermarket sectors, removing the 20 hours limit per week for three months.  

International students with a temporary visa that expires between 1 April and 9 July 2020 will have their visas extended to 25 September 2020. This allows students who are no longer enrolled in educational institutions to make further arrangements.

International students who have lost part-time or casual employment as a result of COVID-19 are eligible for the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment, which provides a wage subsidy of up to NZD$586 per month for 12 weeks. 


International students whose permits were approved before 18 March can still enter Canada but would have to self-quarantine for 14 days upon entry. 

International students doing online classes are eligible to apply for the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). This includes students who are unable to travel to Canada but have a valid study permit. 

The Canada emergency response benefit is available to international students who stopped working due to COVID-19, which provides CAN$500 per week for up to 16 weeks. 

Universities across Canada are providing financial support and encouraging all students to reach out if they need help, especially international students who choose to stay on in Canada. 

Summary & Opinion

COVID-19 happened unexpectedly and has been nothing short of challenging to students globally. 

Many are negatively impacted by the outbreak, especially international students who are unable to travel back home due to travel bans and lockdowns.

The lack of official government response towards the support for international students can cause uncertainty and be deemed as not supportive. This can impact the study destination choice that prospective international students make.

The three most prominent study destinations in the world – the US, UK and Australia are (as of yet) not providing financial support for international students at a central government level. 

However, universities in the US, UK and Australia are actively supporting international students through emergency grants and hardship funds. 

It is different for international students in Canada and New Zealand, as they are included in government financial relief packages, on top of the support from universities.

International students who depend on their part-time income to fund their tuition fees and daily expenses are at a loss.   

What they need is some acknowledgement and support from the government, so they know that they are not left out.

It is key to stay connected with friends, seek help from universities or contact the nearest embassy if needed. Remember, you are not alone.

What do you think about the support from the governments of these study destinations? 

In 29 April 2020, the Victorian Government announced a $45 million fund to support international students in Victoria facing hardship as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The fund is being delivered in partnership with Victoria’s tertiary education providers. Head to StudyMelbourne to learn more 

Meld strongly advises international students to abide by social distancing practices during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

If you need any help and questions send us a message at or contact your respective state’s Study Australia Partners.