The Australian government on Friday announced that it will consider allowing international students back into the country as early as July, but stopped short of providing a specific timeline, leaving thousands in limbo.
For international student Priya Dheer who is stuck in India for the past two months due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions, July may be too far.
The social work student who is pursuing a postgraduate degree from James Cook University in Brisbane claims she risks losing her years’ worth of hard work and a future in Australia if she is not allowed to return before her placements begin next month.
- International students stuck offshore seek exemption from the travel ban
- Nearly 17% of the country's 700,000 students are stranded offshore
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said international students may be allowed to return as early as July
“I stand to lose my degree, my chance to begin a career and that too for no mistake of mine. I can do a part of my semester online, but how can I attend my placements online which are due to begin in June,” she says.
Seeking support from the education industry, Ms Dheer says universities must step-up for overseas students who pay significantly more than the domestic students for the same degrees.
“Universities need to intervene to facilitate our return so we can go back and resume our degrees for which we have paid so much more than domestic students,” she says.
At present, 18 per cent of Australia’s nearly 700,000 international students are reportedly stranded offshore due to the travel ban, of which some have switched to online learning until the crisis subsides.
On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government will consider lifting restrictions for international students as part of ‘step three' of their roadmap to reopen the economy.
“Issues of international students you will notice that it does come into the third step of the plan and that is a possibility and how we will work that through, that will have to be carefully tested,” Mr Morrison said during a press conference.
But international student Lovejeet Kaur says she has taken the news with a pinch of salt.
“The fact that the Australian government has simply said it would consider and is hesitating from declaring the specifications of when they would lift the travel ban is only making the situation worse for us,” says Ms Kaur.
The IT student says the inability to return and the uncertainty looming over travel restrictions has started to affect her mental health.
“I am under so much stress because my entire future is now dependent on when I would be able to return as my life, job and my belongings are all in Brisbane while I am stuck here with no information whatsoever,” she says.
Education agent Ravi Lochan Singh says the fact that government has factored in education as part of its roadmap to recovery indicates that travel ban would soon be lifted for international students.
He suggests the return process can be well managed by enforcing strict quarantine provisions and adding COVID-19 test to the existing medical examination criteria mandatory for student visa applicants.
“We must bear in mind that students (and work permit holders) often are required to undertake a medical test before being granted a visa. This medical test can include a COVID-19 test, cost of which can be borne by the students,” he says.
Mr Singh adds that the test could be conducted 48 hours prior to the departure to reduce further risk.
“We can leave the COVID-19 test to be taken within 48 hours of the travel and the visa can be granted subject to this test,” he adds.
What the universities have to say:
Universities claim they are already in talks with the government to chalk out a plan to pave way for the return of international students, a cohort which contributes nearly $35 billion a year to the export exchequer.
“We’re in discussions with both federal and state government representatives on a range of matters related to this challenging situation and are planning for different scenarios as we consider a return to face-to-face teaching, learning and working,” a spokesperson for the University of Sydney told SBS Punjabi.
But Jatin Saini who is keen to contribute to the Australian job sector says he fears he may fall through the cracks as he no longer has a valid student visa.
“My student visa expired on April 30 and I was due to apply for a temporary graduate study visa upon my return on April 4. But with the universities and the government planning to call back international students, I may again be left out,” says Mr Saini who is also stuck in India.
He is now looking for another pathway to return to his life in Australia, but to him, the future looks bleak.
“I don’t think I’d be able to return to Australia in the near future. I may have to alter my plans altogether and all of this is just so ill-timed as I had just completed my studies and was looking forward towards getting a well-paid job,” he adds.
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