A Guide to COVID-19 Support for Students in New South Wales

nsw international student covid support

This article is sponsored by Study NSW

Studying during the coronavirus pandemic can be challenging, especially when your state can be put into lockdown at any time. Currently, large parts of New South Wales will be under lockdown until the end of July 2021 to try and limit rising COVID-19 infection rates.

Stay-at-home orders apply to people living in Greater Sydney, Wollongong, Central Coast, the Blue Mountains, and Shellharbour. If you live in these areas, this means you must stay at home, except for the following reasons:

  • One person per household per day can shop for food or other essential goods and services.
  • Medical care or compassionate needs (including to get a COVID-19 vaccine).
  • Exercise outdoors with only one person not from your household.
  • Essential work, or education, where you cannot work or study from home.

For up-to-date information, keep checking the NSW Government website.

There are plenty of support systems in place for students across Australia. If you’re studying in New South Wales, call the NSW Government hotline (13 77 88), visit Study NSW’s website for support resources, and read below to find out about initiatives designed to assist international students during this time.

Financial Support

The Federal Government has announced that the COVID-19 Disaster Payment will increase if you live or work in a NSW hotspot undergoing lockdown from week four. If you have lost 20 or more hours of work, you could receive $600. If you have lost between eight and 20 hours of work, you can receive $375. From 18 July 2021, this payment will also be available to people who live outside of NSW hotspots but still meet the criteria for the payment.

To receive the COVID-19 Disaster Payment, you must fit certain criteria based on where you live, your working rights in Australia, and your job and income status. To check your eligibility, click here.

The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment is another government-provided financial support option. This is a lump-sum payment of $1,500 and is available to people living in NSW who can’t earn an income because they must self-isolate or quarantine, or are caring for someone with COVID-19. For more information regarding eligibility criteria, click here.

Accommodation

If you’re feeling insecure in your current financial situation, there are many support networks to ensure you stay safe and supported during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The NSW state government has recently announced a temporary COVID-19 support package for tenants and landlords. There is now a 60-day freeze on evictions, so if you can’t pay your rent due to COVID-19, you can’t be evicted until 11 September 2021.

The previous six-month moratorium on rental evictions will also be in effect until 26 September 2021. So, as long as you keep up your repayment plans for rental debts accrued between 15 April 2020 and 26 March 2021, you should be protected from eviction and tenancy databases.

Your rental costs may also soon be reduced, as NSW landlords can now receive a rental subsidy grant of up to $1,500 if they offer rent reductions to tenants impacted by COVID-19.

Talk to your landlord to discuss temporary changes to your lease, and for further information on your rights as a tenant, reach out to the International Student Legal Service NSW or the Tenants’ Union of New South Wales. Other excellent resources for tenancy issues include NSW Fair Trading and Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Services, which provide informational resources and advocate for international student tenants. 

If COVID-19 has left you struggling to pay household energy bills, the NSW Government’s Access to Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) Scheme has you covered. The scheme involves an eligibility assessment to prove reduced income due to the coronavirus pandemic. It provides electronic EAPA vouchers sent to your energy retailer, which are used to credit home gas and electricity accounts. You can apply online for EAPA vouchers, but they are limited and based on assessment. 

Students looking for discounted emergency accommodation may also contact the Australian Homestay Network, an organisation providing homestay for international students financially affected by COVID-19 under their International Student Support Network program.

Other accommodation resources in NSW include: 

  • Ask Izzy, which assists people at risk of homelessness
  • City of Sydney Community Hotline (02 9265 9333) 
  • Wayside Chapel, which provides showers, food and other assistance
  • Rough Edges, which offers takeaway dinners and counselling services

Legal support

For international students seeking advice regarding tenancy, university fees, employment and visa conditions during COVID-19, there are multiple legal support options in NSW. 

The multilingual My Legal Mate app is designed to support international students so they can understand their legal rights in Australia, and to maintain security during the coronavirus pandemic. The app is available in English, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Portuguese, Thai and Vietnamese, and can help you gather important information in an easy, accessible way. The NSW Government has offered 70,000 free downloads of the My Legal Mate for international students. Visit the Study NSW website to apply for free access to the app.

The International Student Legal Service NSW gives international students free legal advice provided by Redfern Legal Centre. During COVID-19, this confidential assistance will be supplied through phone and online appointments, and covers issues such as fines, debt, car accidents, housing problems, discrimination, employment, domestic violence, university complaints, family law and students visas. Enquiries can be made for free via the Redfern Legal Centre website, or, if you need help accessing an online form, call Law Access on 1300 888 529. Contact TIS National (131 450) for interpreting assistance. 

In partnership with Legal Aid NSW and LawAccess NSW, the NSW Government has launched a free legal help service for people facing legal issues under the COVID-19 public health laws. International students are also eligible to use these services. Phone 1300 888 529 for further information, or visit the Legal Aid NSW website.

Mental health

Mental health support is paramount to managing your studies during COVID-19. The following resources and organisations cater to students from around the world and are accessible in multiple languages, ensuring all students can maintain their wellbeing during this time. 

Helplines are a great option for students practising social distancing protocols. 

Some professional helplines include: 

  • Mental Health Hotline (1800 011 511)
  • Headspace (1800 650 890)
  • Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800)
  • National Coronavirus Helpline (1800 020 080)
  • Lifeline (13 11 14)

For non-English speakers, Lifeline is offering a free interpreting service. Call Translating and Interpreting Services (TIS National) on 131 450 and ask to speak to Lifeline (13 11 14) in your required language. 

The NSW Government’s COVID-19 hotline (13 77 88) is also able to provide students with mental health support, as well as advice on other areas, such as legal assistance and medical issues. 

Mental Health Australia’s social awareness and connection campaign has been created to bring awareness to mental health while social distancing. The hashtag #LookAfterYourMentalHealthAustralia can be followed on social media and is a fantastic resource for those looking for positive content during COVID-19.

Youth Beyond Blue, Beyond Blue, Embrace Multicultural Mental Health, Life in Mind, Head to Health and Transcultural Mental Health Centre are other excellent organisations for those looking for mental health resources and tips for coping during the coronavirus pandemic. These organisations provide meaningful support through their websites, including multilingual information and COVID-19 specific advice.

Food hampers

International students in need of food relief can visit Study NSW’s COVID-19 Help Hub for more information on support services.

Foodbank NSW & ACT are providing international students with free food hampers that can be sent to a location near you. You will receive a box with 15kg of food and pantry items. Access the hampers here.

Virtual engagement, activities and workshops

Study NSW is committed to ensuring the ongoing engagement and growth of international students during COVID-19 and will be offering virtual engagement programs throughout this time. Check out the Study NSW Facebook page for regular updates on virtual engagement opportunities. 

Regular webinars are available for free through the City of Sydney, including business lectures, yoga classes, dance lessons and comedy shows. Webinars are a fantastic opportunity to enjoy new experiences from the safety of your home, and can help you feel connected while you’re social distancing.