The Plight of International Students living in Australia-
Finding Financial, Mental and Social Help Amidst a Pandemic
Written by Elisha Ongcuangco
COVID-19 has affected all lives around the globe. As of May 2020, the virus affected 5,193,760 lives with 334,597 casualties. With so many changes in livelihood and as people try to find the “new normal”, international students around the world have been struggling to make the most out of their student life in a foreign country. As one of the most welcoming countries in the world with exceptional education, Australia currently has more than 500,000 international students enrolled. As a matter of fact, the country’s international education produces Australia’s third most significant export, contributing around $36 billion in the national economy. These students were determined to apply for degrees that would change their lives for the better whilst leaving their loved ones and sacrificing their lives in their homeland. To be able to live and continue one’s programme in Australia, international students tend to apply to any work available such as uber eats delivery, takeaway assistants, cafe staff, cleaners and babysitters. However, as the country continues to battle the virus, just like every nation in the world, the workforce has been affected and was pushed to cut down employees to survive. Many of these “cut-offs” were international students as they work as part-timers and casuals. With no jobs and no family to lean on, international students are now facing hardships as they try to finish their sought-after degrees.
Financial, Mental and Social Help
At the start of Australia’s coronavirus restrictions, international students were shaken by the news about the closure of business establishments where they work. With no work, no pay agreement, the students do not know where to get income in order to pay their rent, bills and essential needs. Because of this, many students were forced to apply for loans. Others were even pushed to withdraw from the university and were asked to go back to their country. It was in much pain to see how these students need to pause their dreams to be able to survive. In terms of rental fees, few stories surfacing online were that of international students being forced to be evicted from their rental homes as they are unable to have proper income to pay. It was also reported that some students solely rely on relief operations and food drive by private sectors and other cultural community groups for their everyday needs.
Following months of deliberation, the Australian government laid down student assistance programs like the access to superannuation and just recently, there are programs such as StudyPerth Crisis Relief Initiative, Working for Victoria and Red Cross Australia wherein they provide financial assistance to international students who are in need. The problem remains though as some parts of the country, specifically, the NSW territory does not have a concrete plan to support its students. NSW labor now continues to urge the government to:
- Follow Victoria’s $45 million packages to fund survival grants of up to $1,100 for international students experiencing hardship
- Target a portion of the $1 billion ‘ Working for NSW’ fund to provide jobs for people who have no access or eligibility to other government support programs
- Advocate in the National Cabinet for the inclusion of temporary visa workers, including international students, to be included in the JobKeeper program.
- Call on other universities to follow Western Sydney University’s lead and offer international students a 10 per cent fee rebate as a cash injection.
The transition from face to face learning to all online seems to be a struggle as well to students. There are a lot of learning habits to learn and unlearn as digital learning starts to be a norm. With these changes, alongside homesickness and the feeling of uncertainty, international students tend to be of higher risk in mental illnesses. Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health released a report that shows that because of language, culture and academic barriers international students are at a higher risk of mental ill-health than domestic students. With this, the vulnerability of international students at these trial times should not be ignored.
As this global pandemic seems to be far from ending, alongside the government, many NGOs, as well as cultural communities, step up to help international students who recently lost their jobs and are unable to pay rentals. They are offering free groceries, monetary help and donating clothes in time for winter. Community groups, particularly on Facebook, even started a drive wherein they adopt international students to provide essential needs; this goes to show that collective effort of the people seems to be an answered prayer for international students. Efforts given by the different cultural communities brings light to international students as they face hardships in a foreign land.