Emerging support for broke and stranded international students


More than 565,000 international students were studying at Australian universities and colleges when the coronavirus outbreak hit. Tens of thousands of people are now stranded with little or no financial support amid what has become a pandemic.

While the federal government offers cash supplements to unemployed Australian citizens and other residents, as well as assistance in finding employment, no income or other form of assistance is available for overseas students.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison even told students they should return home if they could not survive without appealing for help from state and federal governments.

The plight of students worsens

But as the plight of international students has become more widely publicized and their pleas for help have grown, Australian universities and state governments have started to act.

Among the changes to help, students who have been in Australia for more than 12 months and are facing financial hardship can access money from their Australian pension funds.

All workers in Australia are required to contribute part of their weekly earnings to a pension fund. This is to ensure the money will be available when they retire or are unable to work.

Under federal government changes, international students who have contributed to superannuation while working in the country can now withdraw up to 20,000 Australian dollars (13,000 US dollars) from their superannuation fund.

The government has also said it will be “flexible” in cases where coronavirus has prevented students from meeting their visa conditions, including being unable to attend their classes.

Relaxation of working hours

Under their visa requirements, international students can undertake paid work for up to 20 hours per week to earn income to support themselves.

Due to the current coronavirus crisis, the government has extended these hours for students working in aged care or as nurses to support the country’s healthcare sector. Those who worked in supermarkets also had their hours extended.

But from May 1, the time students can spend on paid work has been reduced to the previous limit of 40 hours in each two-week period.

Free financial advice

International students facing extreme financial stress can now get free advice from qualified professionals who can provide information, advice and guidance.

Australia has a National Debt Helpline and overseas students who are struggling to repay debt can get advice from qualified financial advisers who offer advice specific to each student’s situation.

Meanwhile, a growing number of universities have also offered to provide independent emergency scholarships as well as access to “food banks” to help students facing serious difficulties.

According to the national organization Universities Australia, higher education institutions have already committed more than A$110 million to help students in need.

National Support

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said nearly all states and territories, as well as all Australian universities, now offer support for international students.

“Many of these students now find themselves in extremely difficult circumstances due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 virus,” Jackson said.

“Unlike their Australian classmates, there will be those who will not have family or local support networks to fall back on – which is why help from all levels of government, in addition to that of our universities, is vital in this time of growing need.”

Jackson said university support initiatives include providing emergency grants, scholarships, accommodation, food and low-cost or free computer equipment.

She welcomed decisions by all states and territories to offer support to international students “who, like their Australian peers, had lost their casual or part-time jobs as a result of the global pandemic”.

Work for Victoria

The Victorian government, for example, is working with universities to help the more than 100,000 international students facing hardship after losing their part-time jobs.

Victoria joins the governments of the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia to help international students who have lost their casual or part-time jobs .

Universities Australia has welcomed the Government of Victoria’s announcement to establish a AUD$45 million support scheme for international students facing hardship due to COVID-19.

Under the International Student Emergency Relief Fund, international students in the state could be eligible for relief payments of up to A$1,100, co-contributed by Victorian universities.

The Government of Victoria creates job opportunities for students through a ‘Work for Victoria’ program. This measure aims to encourage people who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 epidemic to re-enter the labor market.

The state government also offers free online training courses to those enrolled in the program so that they are job-ready.

Latest figures indicate that international students and their families contribute more than 20 billion Australian dollars (13 billion US dollars) to the national economy each year.

“International education is Australia’s fourth-largest export,” Jackson said. “To Victoria [alone]universities contributed A$7.5 billion in export revenue in 2018-19, supporting thousands of local jobs.

South Australia

The South Australian government has also announced a new AU$13.8 million fund to support international students in the state who are facing financial hardship due to coronavirus.

Among the grants are an A$10 million fund to help students affected by virus restrictions at the state’s three universities; Emergency cash grant of AU$500 to other international students, currently enrolled in a course, living in South Australia who meet the criteria; and a one-time assistance payment of AU$200 per student living with South Australian families provided to host families.

North territory

As part of its AU$50 million Small Business Survival Fund, the Northern Territory Government has announced that it will use a significant portion of the fund to keep people in work who may not be eligible for payment. Federal Government JobKeeper, like some casuals. , recently employed workers and temporary visa holders, including international students.

Australian Capital Territory

The Australian Capital Territory Government’s Jobs for Canberrans Fund will provide work opportunities for people in the casual or semi-skilled workforce who have lost their jobs or have been significantly impacted by COVID -19. Highest priority will be given to those ineligible for Australian Government support funds and those who have relied on casual work.

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