International students in Australia will be able to access an emergency payment as part of a temporary government scheme to support workers during lockdowns.
In a statement, the federal government announced that those workers who reside or work in a Commonwealth declared hotspot, such as the one in the Greater Melbourne Area, will be eligible for the fund.
Recipients will be given up to $500 per week for losing 20 hours or more of work, and $325 per week for losing under 20 hours. They must not have liquid assets of more than $10,000.
The support will be available for Australian citizens and permanent residents and eligible working visa holders, which includes international students.
The fact that international students are being included has been welcomed by members of Australia’s international education community.
“The current lockdown in Victoria following the fresh outbreak has indeed impacted workers,” Ravi Lochan Singh, president of AAERI told The PIE News.
“However, I welcome a change in stance of the Australian government whereby they have included a financial assistance for the affected temporary workers including those who may not have been full time.
“This should benefit students who were in regular part-time employment and also those students who were on full-time work on their post study work visa.”
Belle Lim, national president of the Council of International Students Australia told The PIE that this is the first time the federal government has acknowledged international students and temporary visa holders as “eligible residents that deserve equal support for facing equal challenges, if not more, due to the pandemic”.
“This support is critical to help those in the community who are most in need and most vulnerable to an extended lockdown.”
A difficult decision
Lim explained that students faced a difficult decision to either stay in Australia despite “enormous difficulties and little support”, or to return home with no end in sight of continuing their education onshore.
“Students who remained in the country were severely affected financially by the loss of crucial part time income, and lack of access to JobKeeper payment last year.
“Many students had reported skipping meals, compromising living arrangements, worrying about course discontinuation due to inability to pay fees, or even facing homelessness,” Lim said.
Speaking with The PIE, Robert Parsonson, executive officer of ISEAA, gave a similar description of the hardship endured by international students throughout the pandemic.
He said that the government had not given assistance during the first lockdowns of 2020 and that this had led to “queues of international students for food hampers”.
“This move is a catch up by the federal government to include temporary visa holders that are now a vital labour pool for hospitality and tourism industries.
“The original call from the prime minister for temporary visa holders to ‘return to their country’ has flipped to giving students working in hospitality and aged care unlimited working hours in Australia,” he said.
The government’s Covid-19 Temporary Activity Subclass 408 visa allows visa holders that are finishing their student visa to transfer and have full work rights for 12 months (with no study obligation) to work in hospitality and tourism and other critical industries, he added.
“This is putting further pressure on education providers as students previously would have extended their student visas,” he added.
The impact of Australia’s policy on international student mobility has caused concern for many in the global education sector. A recent report by CISA found that some 93% of international students stranded overseas have experienced significant mental health issues.
Access to Services Australia Disaster Assistance became open to the public from Tuesday June 8 at www.servicesaustralia.gov.au or over the phone on 180 22 66.