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The COVID-19 pandemic has been an uneasy time for all of us. But the situation has been particularly difficult for international students, many who have just arrived in a foreign land. The changing situation has been challenging for these students, who have not received the same level of financial government support as domestic students.

From 2018 to 2019, international students increased their contributions by $5 billion, totalling to $37.6 billion to the Australian economy a year. Despite these big contributions, the federal government’s $130 billion JobSeeker and JobKeeper financial support program is limited only to Australian citizens and those holding a permanent visa.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison recommended that international students who cannot support themselves return home. After criticisms of the statement, international students working in the health, disability and the aged care industry were are allowed to have their maximum 40 working hours a fortnight lifted. While the increase may help a portion of the student body financially, broader assistance should be made to benefit the majority.

The Council of International Students Australia has called for support through welfare packages. CISA National Education Officer Domi Dana Johnson said in a media statement, a reduction of course fee should be applied, as students paid for accessing university facilities and a face-to-face learning experience. The CISA National Welfare Officer Kasun Kalhara said a majority of international students were in risk of job insecurity as they were employed for casual jobs basic. In response to the call for more support of Australia’s international student body, the ACT and Victorian state governments have offered a $450,000 and $45 million in funds to help support international students respectively. In Western Australia, StudyPerth has released a Crisis Relief Program (SPCR). The package includes support services in food, shelter, health and wellbeing.

Concerns over the wellbeing of international students wellbeing have been raised, with many of these students facing financial insecurity due to losing work. Regardless of the COVID-19 situation, studies have shown that international students face different personal hurdles. In the International Education Association of Australia’s 2019 Mental Health and International Students report key factors found to affect international student’s mental health included adopting to be independent of their family and a different academic system, adjusting to a fully English environment and having hesitation in asking for help. It also stated students coming from a non-English speaking background, particularly Southeast and East Asian students were more vulnerable to mental health issues as they tended to stay less connected to their home country. This unusual period has made connections and the adaption even complicated for international students.

 

Curtin Guild International Students Committee councillor and content creator Christopher Tan said there was a lot more needed to be done to support international students.

“I believe that nothing is significant to international students and to all students as well until fees are greatly reduced, as the quality of education has been affected,

Tan said that international students committee across different university had noticed the voice of international students.

“But as much as they can help bridge the gap in resources as well as emotional and mental communal support, they do not have enough authority to help them financially.”

The unforgettable journey to Australia

On February 1, after the outbreak of the COVID-19, the Australian government imposed a travel ban which restricted all non-citizens or permanent residents from China to enter Australia for controlling the spread of the disease. Those arriving from China to Australia were advised to isolate themselves for 14 days in quarantine.

Since Western Australia closed its border, many Curtin students who were overseas either travelling or visiting their home country during the Summer break have been affected. Their journey coming back to Perth has been difficult.

Kristin Chan who is in her second year of graphic design went back to China to visit her family during the break said she had to self-isolate for 15 days in Bangkok before returning to Perth.

“I was pretty exhausted because the entry policy from the government keeps changing.”

Curtin University provides a one-off payment scholarship totalling AUS$1500 for students impacted by travel restrictions.

When asked about the support fund from Curtin official,

“I think the required condition is a little bit unfair. The scholarship is only available for those Chinese students who arrive Perth after 9 March”, she said.

Ying Shen who is in her final year of mass communication spent her summer break in China with her family, also had to stay in Thailand prior to flying back into Perth.

“Curtin gives me $1500 for staying 14 days in Thailand. I think it is very useful, I really appreciate,

“From my personal experience, I don’t understand why the government restricted students coming from mainland [China], but they allowed students coming from America. They think the virus came from Mainland.’’

In a statement addressing the situation of COVID-19, Consul-General Dong Zhihua from the Consulate General of People’s Republic of China in Perth said,

“The entry ban caused much confusion and trouble for Chinese students, who may be leaving their parent and steeping on a foreign land by themselves for the first time,”

Perth’s Chinese Consulate has offered ‘health packages’ which included masks and sanitizing napkins to assist the Chinese student community.

The travel ban has affected not only students from China but international students from different parts of the world. Many exchange students have ceased their journey of studying in Perth to return to their home country.

Keys to staying connected

This is a challenging time for us all and it is okay to be not okay and ask for help. For more information, please visit the Curtin’s COVID-19 advice website and Curtin Counselling Services website.

For international student’s support, follow the International Student Committee @Curtinisc on Facebook or Instagram and or the Perth International Students Facebook group to get in touch.