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Top study destinations divided on COVID-19 financial support for international students

Last week, Canada announced that international students will be included in measures to help those who lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Like native citizens, they can apply for temporary income support of up to CAN$500 a week for up to 16 weeks provided they meet certain criteria.

coronavirusInternational students facing financial difficulty are looking to the governments of host countries for support. Photo: Pixabay

Many argue that the ability to support oneself financially is a requirement of obtaining a study visa

How do other study destinations compare?

International students and the agencies that advocate for them have been lobbying various governments to provide financial assistance in cases where students have lost their part-time job due to coronavirus and are struggling to afford rent and daily necessities.

“If you are having difficulties in paying your bills for any reason, talk to your education provider”

While most countries have relaxed certain visa regulations and school attendance requirements for international students, many are hesitant to provide further financial support for international students, arguing that – at the very least for first-year students – the ability to support oneself financially is a requirement of obtaining a study visa.

This debate has played out most prominently in Australia where the prime minister said there would be no support for international students (individual institutions are stepping up, however).

International students have since been granted access to their superannuation (pension) funds, which are usually only accessible after leaving the country, up to AUS$10,000. The city of Melbourne has also pledged to create a fund for international students.

This is distinct from New Zealand and Canada, where international students have been incorporated into measures for all citizens, as opposed to being treated as a separate category.

Yet the three biggest destinations for international students – the US, the UK and China – are as of yet not providing financial support for students at a government level, although in the case of the UK and US, like Australia, universities are providing support through hardship funds.

Students are encouraged to ask universities directly about these services as they are often not advertised.

“If you are having difficulties in paying your bills for any reason, talk to your education provider and, if relevant, to your accommodation provider,” UKCISA said in its online guidelines for international students.

“Both have been instructed by the UK government to exercise flexibility if you cannot afford to pay your tuition fees, rent or other expenses.”

The lack of official response has left organisations worried about the impact of host nations not being supportive of international students will have on the future desirability of the country as a study destination.

“We recognise there is a global competition for talent, and prospective international students will surely look at how countries reacted to COVID-19 when deciding where to apply,” Jill Allen Murray, deputy executive director public policy at NAFSA, told The PIE News.

“Allowing for flexibility in adjudication requests and status determinations during this global crisis will send a strong message that the United States welcomes and values international students, even in times of uncertainty.”

China, the world’s third-largest study destination, generally doesn’t allow international students to work. However, reports have surfaced of some losing their accommodation due to the coronavirus outbreak in recent days.

“Prospective international students will surely look at how countries reacted to COVID-19 when deciding where to apply”

In China’s southern city of Guangzhou, international students and other non-nationals are being blamed for the spread of coronavirus and have ended up homeless as a result of being turned out by landlords, with hotels refusing to give them rooms.

“They are accusing us of having the virus,” one Nigerian student told the BBC.

“We paid rent to [the landlords] and after collecting rent they chased us out of the house. Since last night we have been sleeping outside.”

Accommodation and giving notice for leaving due to coronavirus has proved to be a stickler in many countries. In the UK, some accommodation providers are insisting students continue to pay for unused rooms.

Students in France who go home have been exempted from having to give one month notice for residences in public students halls. Campus France told The PIE that the French government has earmarked €10 million for students in need whether they are French or international, which will provide food vouchers and other support for students who have lost their part-time jobs.

This has not been the case across Europe however.

“The circumstances differ heavily from country to country. The European Commission has issued recommendations for national Erasmus agencies and HEIs on how to deal with the situation,” said Sebastian Berger vice president of the European Students’ Union.

“In many cases, all involved actors are keen on finding solutions in the best interest of the students.

“Unfortunately, we do also receive reports about international students left stranded and in uncertainty with regards to their academic and economic future.”

In Germany, one group is asking the government to do more for both domestic and international students and is asking for €3,000 for every student currently in financial difficulties as the result of coronavirus job losses.

“It should also accessible to international students. Germany is a ‘host country’ and in a crisis has responsibility for these students,” state Bündnis Soforthilfe für Studierende on their website.

“The psychological and financial impact for international students in some cases is even more intense [than for local ones].”

The group has the backing of FZS and several other organisations.

But for Gerrit Bruno Blöss of Study.eu, a France-style model is “definitely conceivable in Germany”.

“On the other hand, the biggest cost factor for students here is rent, and the government already passed legislation that you can’t be kicked out if you can’t pay your rent now because of coronavirus,” he added.

“Unfortunately, we do also receive reports about international students left stranded”

Agencies like DAAD are trying to help international students find new part-time jobs in sectors currently needing staff by posting links to job boards on their website.

“There are industries and areas such as agriculture or retail that are desperately looking for temporary jobbers,” DAAD noted.

International students have appeared in online forums such as Reddit seeking advice for what to do without work as popular student jobs such as working in bars and restaurants disappear. For those in places where little support is available, users have also suggested students turn their hand to online teaching, particularly languages, or delivery services.

Read these articles for further information about the situation in Australia and New Zealand.

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