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Understanding the Prime Minister’s Statement on International Students During COVID-19

You have probably seen recent news articles regarding the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s speech on 3 April, 2020, in which he stated, in regards to international students in Australia, “It’s time to go home.” This, understandably, may have left you a little confused.

You may be wondering whether or not you have to leave Australia, what you can do financially to support yourself, or where you can find support networks during this time. We at Insider Guides want to provide some clarity surrounding the statement for those considering their current position.

What did Scott Morrison actually say? 

Scott Morrison’s speech was based around the Australian government’s plan to prioritise Australian citizens and residents during the COVID-19 crisis, with Morrison saying, “Australia must focus on its citizens and its residents to ensure that we can maximise the economic supports that we have.” Consequently, the PM indicated that there would be no governmental assistance at present for international students, saying that: “If [international students are] not in a position to be able to support themselves, then there is the alternative for them to return to their home countries.”

Scott Morrison did, however, go on to say that international students with ‘critical skills’ would be the exception to this, claiming that, “for those … who are nurses or doctors, or have other critical skills that can really help us during this crisis, then there will be opportunities for them.”

That being said, informing international students that they should return home can be ambiguous and intimidating – is it a recommendation or an order? 

Do you have to leave? 

There is no need to panic. Visas are not being cancelled and you will not be removed from the country. Your visa will not be cancelled for reasons that are out of your control, such as classes being cancelled or postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, you will be able to continue with your studies if your institution is offering your course online. If you have any concerns at all regarding your studies, contact your education provider directly.

The government has said it will continue to communicate with the international education sector and be flexible with international students who may not be able to meet their visa requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

International students support around 240,000 jobs across Australia, so it is unlikely the government will want to cancel these visas quickly. The Minister of Education, Dan Tehan, wants international students to remember that “You are our friends, our classmates, our colleagues and members of our community.”

Decisions and requirements made by the federal government are changing rapidly, so always ensure you stay up to date with the news for any new information. Reliable Australian news sources can be found on our COVID-19 Resource Hub.

State vs. Federal advice

It is important to remember that, regardless of what the federal government has said (in this case, the Prime Minister), you should comply with local, state advice and listen to what your university or institution is telling you. 

It is important to keep up to date with the developments of your state government as enforcement rules will vary depending on your state. Keep up to date with developments in your state here.

How do I support myself financially?

International students may struggle more than others during this pandemic due to the fact that international students are not able to receive the financial support that Australian residents are eligible to receive. That being said, if you remain in Australia, there are some things you should consider to support yourself financially. 

If you’ve been working in Australia for more than 12 months, the Australian Government has confirmed that you will be able to access your superannuation during the pandemic. 

Additionally, some universities (such as Charles Darwin University and the University of South Australia) are offering financial help to international students during the crisis, so check with your university to see what support you will be entitled to or what plans your institution is working on to help international students. 

Finally, international students who work for supermarkets or other essential services will be able to receive more working hours, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services has confirmed, with the 40-hour limit for international students being relaxed during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find more information about changes to work hours on the Department of Home Affairs website.

What if leaving isn’t practical? 

Leaving Australia is difficult at the moment due to the recent border closures, both domestically and internationally, as well as due to the lack of international flights. 

The Australian Government understands that this will be an issue and vows to keep international students informed of the support they can receive until they’re able to depart. 

Where can I find support? 

It’s important to remember that you are not alone during these challenging times and there are several support systems you can find to help you understand the situation. In addition to government agencies such as Study in Australia, your educational institution will also offer all the support it can during this challenging time. 

If you need mental health support, international students are able to access the following institutions: 

  • Youth Beyond Blue (1300 224 636)
  • Headspace (1800 650 890)
  • Lifeline Australia (13 11 14)
  • Beyond Blue also has a dedicated COVID-19 forum for people to seek support

A range of government, health, student and news recourses for international students can be found at our COVID-19 Resource Hub.