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'We also need financial aid': International students seek government help as COVID-19 spreads

Gurpreet Singh Source: Supplied

Gurpreet Singh, a hospitality student from Melbourne went to India at the end of his semester is now rethinking his plan to return to Australia.

The 26-year-old, who hails from a family of limited means, is due to return to Melbourne next week.

Mr Singh, who works as a rideshare driver to supplement his income and fund his college education, says the Australian government’s order of a 14-day mandatory quarantine for all overseas arrivals couldn’t have come at a “worst time.”


  • Indian students hesitate to return to Australia
  • Students demand economic aid to get through the crisis
  • Education agent claims the situation is likely to impact new student enrollments from India

Abuse, racism and minimum pay: Ride-share drivers detail experiences
Hospitality student Gurpreet Singh drives Uber to supplement his income.
AAP/AP Photo/Eric Risberg

“I thought I would go back to work and make for my absence as soon as I would land. But now this order of compulsory self-isolation for two weeks means, zero income, mounting daily expenses, outstanding rent and a whopping semester fee.”

Mr Singh adds that unlike others who can work from home or are entitled to annual or paid sick leave, he has no cushion against his current income losses.

“Because I am a driver, I have no such options like work from home or any entitlements such as paid or sick leaves. This means, if I can’t drive, I would have no source of income and I wouldn’t be able to afford my degree, house or pay by electricity bills.”

Last week, the federal government announced casual workers would be eligible for a payment of about $280 a week if they could not go to work or had to self-isolate because of coronavirus.

But even that amnesty is not available to international students, particularly those who drive to support themselves.

'Don't return until things settle'

Mansi Saxena, an experienced career coach based in Melbourne says students should not return until things settle.

"If students like Gurpreet are reluctant to return, that is because of obvious health concerns, universities have momentarily shut down and simply because there is no help available, particularly for those from low-income households, who work to fund their education and daily expenses," says Ms Saxena.

Indian students seek economic aid to tide through the times of coronavirus.

Education consultant Ravi Lochan Singh says while most Indian students have already returned, those offshore might not return until the crisis is over.

“A bulk of students have returned to Australia, chances are that a majority of those currently in India might not return for a few more months amidst current circumstances, partly because of quarantine measures and also owing to parental pressure who fear for their safety,” says Mr Singh.

He adds that the class of students who have been most affected are the ones who intended to apply for mid-year intake at Australian universities.

“We will witness a likely decline in the number of new enrolments from India ahead of July intake- an obvious outcome of the ongoing crisis because many universities here are shut, some IELTS coaching centres back in India are not operating, promotional campaigns have ceased-all of which is bound to impact student numbers in the coming months,” says Mr Lochan.

Indian travellers coronavirus
Indian travelers wearing face masks to protect from them the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images

Kartik, a former business student at Melbourne University is running an online campaign to persuade the government to protect the interests of international students in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Permanent residents and citizens are being protected, but international students who are providing frontline help, carrying out voluntary work are not being protected in any manner whatsoever.

“The government has not yet announced any economic stimulus for overseas students who add billions to their revenue. We’re calling the state governments to action so that we can also feel protected,” says Mr Kartik.

SBS Punjabi has contacted the Victorian government for comment.

As of the time of publication, only people who have recently travelled from overseas or have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case and experienced symptoms within 14 days are advised to be tested.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor, don’t visit, or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

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