International students make up one in 50 people in Australia and contribute an enormous amount – culturally, economically, politically – to our nation and our state.
International education creates influential, long term diplomatic ties and provide a global perspective for our domestic students. International students generate cultural linkages, knowledge exchange and relationships that build our social capital and contribute to future international research and business relationships.
These students also support many other sectors, including retail, hospitality and tourism: over a quarter of students studying in WA are visited by friends and relatives, who, spend over 8 times more than holiday visitors in our economy.
COVID-19 has created challenges for us all, but international students find themselves in a particularly vulnerable situation. Many have worked casually and paid tax, but have lost work and/or are now unable to find work. They are not eligible for Centrelink benefits and have been largely excluded from recently introduced Federal concessions and allowances. Many students are now struggling to meet their living expenses (such as rent, food and household bills).
The suggestion that international students should go home jeopardises the ability of the international education sector to rebound after COVID-19 and ignores the severity of the situation. Some students wish to return home but are unable to do so because of travel restrictions (many international airports are closed) or due to their economic hardship. Most students have no family support in Perth. Many students were dependent on funds from their home country; these funds have largely disappeared as students’ families lose their jobs, their businesses and their livelihoods as a result of COVID-19.
Like all states and territories, WA has an emerging local crisis as many of our international students find themselves in immediate distress, with limited access to support.
In response, StudyPerth is establishing StudyPerth Crisis Relief (SPCR), a program to address the acute needs of international students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions.
The program is to be funded by diverting StudyPerth resources from curtailed or cancelled projects. The SPCR will be accessible, via application, to provide support services to international students in acute need with regard to:
- Rights and Support
- Health and Wellbeing
The principal aim of SPCR is to provide practical help to students in acute need, but it is also important to demonstrate to education agents here and overseas and to students’ families that we are a compassionate community and we're supporting their students when they need us most. This will be to WA’s advantage as we recover and rebound from the COVID-19 crisis. Recovery of the sector will be crucial to stabilising the State’s economy now that international education has been identified as a key component of a diversified economy. And international students have an important contribution to make: a recent StudyPerth survey suggests that most students are not looking for a handout, but seek assistance in finding paid employment.
StudyPerth is working very closely with education providers, Consulates, ethnic associations and business councils to establish a protocol that matches international students with the support, aid or advice they need.
The first stage of the protocol is to refer students to their education institution. In the majority of cases, the institution will be able to provide the necessary support for their students, particularly now that WA universities have announced comprehensive student support packages.
If we value and support our international students when they are most in need, we can ensure that the international education sector in WA remains strong and can drive prosperity and jobs growth, as restrictions are lifted and the global economy begins to recover.
Student - Hasta Mahatara, Bachelor of Nursing student from Nepal
Nursing student Hasta Mahatara from Nepal has been in Perth for three years and was working at a restaurant in the city before losing his job as a result of COVID-19. As healthcare workers are in need at the moment Hasta was hired by an agency and was looking forward to giving back to the community.
“ I am being offered only about one shift per fortnight. It makes me very concerned for my financial situation.”
“With international students not being eligible for Government assistance, many of whom have been working and paying tax in Australia for years. Most of my friends worked in the hospitality sector and have lost their jobs and are staying home.”
“My friends and I were all very upset about the statement Federal Government made, returning home is not an option. We have already spent a lot of money to come and study in Australia; as COVID-19 is causing challenges all around the world, including in Nepal, none of us are in a position to be able to ask for financial assistance from home.”
Student Body Representative - Ahmed Ademoglu, President Council of International Students Australia
"International students are going through significant issues varying from accommodation, course issues, financial struggles, mental health issues and connectedness. We receive a large number of enquiries from our student leaders and individual international students. Unfortunately, they do not receive the welfare packages from the Federal Government. This makes them very vulnerable in the community."
"I think this is a great opportunity for StudyPerth to demonstrate that Western Australia is student focused and sympathises with the affected international students. This development has been an act of kindness and courtesy."
Employer - Mark Hayter, Owner South Perth restaurant Mister Walker
“We have a wide range of various visa holders who are an integral part of our business. Job roles include Managers, Senior Chefs, Wait Staff, Assistant Chefs and Kitchen Hands. The ongoing viability of our restaurant is dependent upon the retention of all of these valued employees. “
“Of our 30 employees, 13 fall into the category of visa holders and at this stage none of them are entitled to any government assistance. Should they become eligible for JobKeeper payments we would reinstate all of them to employment immediately.”
Industry Body Representative - Phil Honeywood, Chief Executive Officer International Education Association of Australia
“How we as a study destination country respond to our international students in this unprecedented crisis will determine our reputation going forward. Whilst many of our education providers are doing the heavy lifting in the provision of hardship funding, we need state and Federal government meaningful assistance in order to promote this as one unified national student support initiative.”