Student advocacy group, Council of International Students Australia, is urging stakeholders to ensure the livelihoods of international students are equally considered in the various welfare packages being offered due to the impact of coronavirus.
It is calling for freezing or reducing rents, and lowering the cost of education that has been moved online.
This follows two announcements that the Australian government would temporarily allow international student nurses – and those already working at major grocery stores – to work more hours to help Australia cope with increased pressure on supermarkets and in aged care.
Speaking with The PIE News, Rebecca Hall, senior industry specialist in international education at Austrade, said, “it absolutely is a nod to how important international students are in our economy and how much we value them.”
But she acknowledged that there was also discussion at government level about how best to support those “who are vulnerable and impacted at this time”.
Hall continued, “this is not just because there may not be work access in Australia, but… because families and those who are funding their studies back home are also impacted by the virus.”
CISA has pointed out that those students not able to work are losing out on an income they relied upon to support themselves.
“International students are among some of the highest contributors to Australia’s economy and it is important that their contributions be used to support them in such tough times,” it said in a press statement.
“Many international students are being laid off, facing a severe decrease in shifts and high job uncertainty.”
It recommends course costs be reduced “as international students pay for access to institution facilities and learning environment as well as the overall experience of being on campus, interacting with professors and other students and forging a sense of community”.
CISA president Ahmed Ademoglu added that the organisation was in touch with the government regularly.
“We have been advocating in various committees for international students to be supported during these trying times. We are fighting for international students to get a welfare package and we are positive that it will happen soon,” he said.
Under their visa arrangements, international students may only work up to 40 hours each fortnight.
However, on March 18, prime minister Scott Morrison said the restrictions would be lifted on some 20,000 international nursing students, enabling them to work the same number of hours as their domestic counterparts.
“They’re going to be available to support the health effort right across the country, as directed by our health officials,” the prime minister said.
This followed a visa rule concession to major Australian supermarkets to keep shelves stocked with essential items.
Acting minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, Alan Tudge, said the changes were necessary to help supermarkets meet the surge in demand for household items.
Tudge also pointed out how international students would help fill critical staff shortages emerging in the health sector.
“As more workers take leave to quarantine or because of health concerns, we need to make sure there are enough staff to look after our older Australians who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus,” Tudge said in a statement.
The measures will be administered by the Department of Home Affairs and are available to approved providers of Commonwealth-funded aged care services, only for existing employees.
Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck, said it’s critical to plan for a scenario where a large part of the aged care workforce is unable to come to work.
“Aged care providers have told me that a relaxation of student visa work conditions would support their workforce continuity in the face of COVID-19 challenges,” Colbeck added, pointing out that these are temporary measures.
Source: THE PIE NEWS