International students have expressed their budgetary difficulties as a result of Australia’s move to postpone the reopening of its borders amidst the emergence of the Covid-19 variant.
The Australian federal government announced earlier this month that the country’s borders would reopen to vaccinated students on December 1, providing them with a “clear pathway” to the country’s coasts. The administration has now declared that the restoration of the border would be postponed until December 15 in order to gather further evidence about the Omicron variant.
Overseas students who had planned their flights and accommodations have now stated that the postponement has cost them a large amount of money. “I had my booking for December 7. I had resigned from my job. My family had their plans set for one last trip before I left and paid for a house lease in Sydney,” said Deepesh, a student at the University of Wollongong.
“My sister had booked her tickets from Melbourne to Sydney, to meet me. And now, it leaves me nowhere at all. Literally all of it down the gutter. It will impact me with around AUD $2,000 (US $1,421). Needless to mention the enormous mental torture it brings.”
Deepesh reported that his study begins in February 2022, and that he has already postponed his program twice from this year to the next, and that he has already paid tuition for the first semester.
“The most hurtful thing is that these people in power didn’t even think of us once. Did they reach out to us to ask for our mental health or to support us financially with all the flight cancellations?” he said. “[There’s been] no communication. Just [a] one-way order without thinking of the impact it’ll have on us. “Now, I can’t even book because I don’t know if they’ll extend the ban beyond this or not. And I’m definitely not in the position to afford another cancellation,” he added.
The Australian government stated in an announcement that the decision to halt the restoration of the borders was based on medical recommendations from Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly.
“The National Security Committee has taken the necessary and temporary decision to pause the next step to safely reopen Australia to international skilled and student cohorts, as well as humanitarian, working holidaymaker and provisional family visa holders from December 1 until December 15,” the statement said.
“The temporary pause will ensure Australia can gather the information we need to better understand the Omicron variant, including the efficacy of the vaccine, the range of illness, including if it may generate more mild symptoms and the level of transmission.”
The sum of money spent on flights varies on airline policy and whether students booked the trips independently, according to Oscar Zi Shao Ong, national president of the Council of International Students Australia.
“I am aware some airlines offer refunds if the passengers were tested positive for Covid-19. It is not clear yet on the flights delivered by pilots too and what’s happening with that, we are still seeking clarifications,” Ong said.
“The delay will certainly increase the stress of the international students that are already waiting and living in uncertainty for nearly two years. “While I understand the unpredictability of Covid-19, as we are getting closer to semester 1, international students want absolute certainty about the borders so they are able to get on with their studies,” he added.
A Pakistani student, Saad Ahmad, at Holmes Institute Melbourne who holds a bachelor’s degree, told him that the disruptions have cost him money on trips. He added that, in addition to losing money on airfares, he is now having immigration issues.
Ahmad finished his degree in 2019 and returned home for a vacation before starting his job search on a 485 visa (a temporary work visa for graduates). He was unable to travel to Australia due to the pandemic, though. His 485 visa will run out on 10 December.
The Australian government has created accommodations for students like Ahmad who have been unable to fully utilize their 485 visa due to international border constraints, and they will be able to apply for a new visa. While students have applauded the concessions, they will only be able to apply for a new visa starting July 1, 2022.
Ahmad stated that he wishes to pursue a master’s degree, but that he must first travel to Australia to obtain a bridging visa, which will allow him to remain in the country until a new student visa can be obtained. If his visa expires on December 10, he will not be able to enter Australia until July 2022.
The other option is for him to apply for a student visa in his home country, but he is concerned that the processing dates may cause his plans to be further delayed. He claims that this has thrown his plans off and has taken a toll on his mental health. Border closures in Australia have had a tremendous impact on students. According to a CISA research released earlier this year, 93 per cent of international students stuck abroad have experienced major mental health concerns.
According to an official from the Australian Department of Education, Skills, and Employment,
- The Australian Government has taken the necessary decision to postpone the next step in the safe reopening of Australia until December 15, 2021, based on the opinion of Australia’s Chief Medical Officer.
- The government is mindful that some students have made plans to travel to Australia and may be impacted by the pause.
- The Government’s policies and plans to support international students, skilled migrants, and other cohorts remain in place, and the government looks forward to welcoming them back to Australia soon.
- The Australian government is urging all education and training providers to continue supporting international students studying in Australia by broadening online study options, assessing fee waivers or reductions, and providing ongoing student support services, such as counselling and mental health support.
- Onshore international students can get counselling and mental health support from their education provider as well as resources financed by the government and community organizations.