Kathmandu, April 9

Less than a week after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morison said international students who could not support their stay in the country had the option but to return, Australia’s Education Minister Dan Tehan has assured the students of support.

Issuing a statement last evening, Tehan said the government knew the impacts of this virus were affecting international students in Australia. He assured international students were also part of the Australian community. “My message to our international students is: You are our friends, our classmates, our colleagues and members of our community,” said Tehan in a statement. “Our Government continues to work with universities and the international education sector to minimise the impact of COVID-19, and that includes finding innovative ways to support our international students,” said Tehan. “I also encourage our international students to use the mental health support offered by their education provider.”

The Australian government has announced that international students who have been in Australia for longer than 12 months and who find themselves in financial hardship will be able to access their Australian  superannuation.

Superannuation is a compulsory system of placing a minimum percentage of your income into a fund to support your  financial needs after retirement. It had so far been only offered upon leaving Australia, but  a new legislation provided  international students who have been in the country for longer than 12 months with immediate access to accumulated superannuation funds.

Moreover, international students working in elderly care and as nurses had the limit of 40 working hours per fortnight. The limit has been extended to support these critical sectors. Earlier on April 4, Australian PM Morrison had said those in Australia under various visa arrangements and could not  support themselves had the  alternative to return to their home countries. This announcement had more than 50,000 Nepali students and their dependants worried as they were not eligible for financial support the Australian government offered to its citizens and residents.

A latest analysis by jobs website ‘Seek’ has revealed just how badly jobs have been hit. The number of new job ads has plummeted 65.3 per cent in the week ending April 5 compared to the same time last year.

The Australian government has indicated it expects 1 million Australians out of work and economists have forecast the unemployment rate to reach as high as 7.5 per cent.

Although the Australian government has come up with some relief measures, Nepali students say the superannuation provision is largely insufficient because the total savings amount is generally low for students. Universities are also trying to introduce relief measures such as deferral of tuition fees payment deadlines, but it is needsbased and students will have to produce documents that prove they really cannot pay fees at the moment.

This is expected to hamper many Nepal students to access relief. As jobs become scarce and incomes plummet, Nepali students in Australia are now in a dilemma: Face difficulties staying in Australia or return to Nepal forgoing huge fees paid to colleges and universities in Australia.

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A version of this article appears in e-paper on April 10, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.