Australia

What coronavirus support is available for international students in each state and territory?

Advocates say more support is needed. Source: Getty

With little help from the Morrison government, international students are in a precarious situation during the coronavirus pandemic.

After international students were excluded from the vast majority of the federal government's COVID-19 support measures, states and territories have started to offer their own assistance.

This patchwork of measures has been welcomed by advocates, but they caution that many of Australia's 565,000 international students are falling through the cracks.

Council of International Students Australia national welfare officer Kasun Kalhara said many international students have lost their jobs as the pandemic hit the retail and hospitality sectors particularly hard.

"A lot of these students are struggling with their income ... They are experiencing this across the country, regardless of the state they are living in," he told SBS News.

"With the shutdowns, many have no opportunity to go back ... The most important thing students have raised to us now is income support."

So what are state and territory governments offering and who is missing out?

Victoria

This week, the Victorian government announced a $45 million fund to support international students during the pandemic.

The International Student Emergency Relief Fund will provide a payment of up to $1,100 to vulnerable international students who have lost their job or had a significant reduction to their employment.

Up to 40,000 international students enrolled at universities, TAFEs, private vocational education and training providers and English language colleges could benefit from the relief payment.

The payments require co-contributions from university hardship funds.

"This virus doesn't discriminate and neither do we," Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Trade Martin Pakula said.

"We are in this together and we will get through it together."

Students can also access rent relief and are eligible for the Working for Victoria initiative, which helps people who have lost their jobs to find new employment.

NSW

More than a third of Australia's international students study in NSW, but it is the only state or territory not to announce major support initiatives.

It has become a political flashpoint, with the state opposition calling for action now.

"While other states have taken steps to ensure international students aren't being forced to go hungry or vacate accommodation, for the government this problem is out of sight and out of mind," NSW Labor leader Jodi Mckay said on Friday.

She called on the state government to provide a $60 million package to fund survival grants of up to $1,100 for international students experiencing hardship, possibly with co-contribution from universities.

But NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian insists it's the federal government's responsibility. 

"The NSW government hasn't made any decision in that regard at this stage but you have to assume that will be a decision at a national cabinet perspective," Ms Berejiklian said on Friday.

However, international students in the state have access to some measures, such as protections from evictions, legal support and mental health support.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
AAP

South Australia

The South Australian government will spend $13.8 million to assist international students studying in the state.

The International Student Support Package will include a $10 million fund for university students significantly impacted at the University of Adelaide, Flinders University and the University of South Australia.

Emergency cash grants of $500 will be available to other international students significantly impacted.

"International education plays an important role in South Australia's economy as the state's largest export sector," Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment David Ridgway said.

"Every four international student enrolments creates one new job and 2018-19 saw our international students contribute $1.92 billion to South Australia's economy – with more than half of this usually spent in the community on living expenses."

Tasmania

Tasmania is providing payments for all cash-strapped temporary visa holders, including international students.

The $3 million package includes one-off payments of $250 for visa holders suffering financial hardship and up to $1,000 for families.

Premier of Tasmania Peter Gutwein.
Premier of Tasmania Peter Gutwein.
AAP

Premier Peter Gutwein said it was "only fair" temporary migrants impacted by the coronavirus pandemic were supported.

"I want to say that I don't agree with the very simple message that temporary visa holders should just go home," he said.

"It's important we support these people who've been working in our community, earning an income, and this package will take the steps necessary to do that."

ACT

The ACT government has also pledged a financial support package for temporary visa holders, including international students.

The territory has committed $450,000 for emergency relief services to support those who have lost their income because of business shutdowns.

ACT Minister for Multicultural Affairs Chris Steel said his government was forced to act after the federal government refused to.

"We have been advocating to the federal government for people on temporary visas to be covered by JobKeeper and remain connected with work," he said.



"The Australian government has refused, and as a result many Canberrans on temporary visas have now lost work and now have literally no income."

Queensland

The Queensland government has allocated $2.2 million to helping international students.

The package covers access to professional support counsellors, isolation care-packs, pre-prepared meals and other living expense payments to students.

"University, TAFE and college students are juggling a range of challenges including loss of work, separation from friends and family and severe anxiety," Minister for Innovation and Tourism Industry Development Kate Jones said.

"We must take care of struggling students. If we don't, operators throughout the state could lose hundreds of millions of dollars."

Western Australia

Western Australia has launched StudyPerth Crisis Relief (SPCR) which will assist students to access emergency accommodation, supplies and healthcare.

"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," SPCR material said.

 

"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."

Northern Territory

The NT has the country's lowest number of international students.

As part of the territory's Jobs Rescue and Recovery plan, businesses can apply for support to assist workers that are not eligible for the JobKeeper payment such as temporary visa holders.

Also, StudyNT has created care packages for international students.

Calls for federal help

The funding assistance put in place by states and territories pales in comparison to the federal government's COVID-19 measures, such as the multi-billion-dollar coronavirus supplement and JobKeeper initiatives that offer six months of support.

The Morrison government has allowed international students to access a small number of options, including early access to superannuation.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison talks to reporters.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison talks to reporters.
AAP

But Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson on Friday called for "sustainable, ongoing assistance that international students will require beyond the short-term".

"Over the past two weeks state and territory governments have increasingly recognised and understood the difficulties international students are facing due to impacts from the COVID-19 global pandemic," Ms Jackson said.

"A nationally consistent approach to this challenge is vital."

Additional reporting: Tom Stayner, AAP

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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