Earlier this month the federal government of Australia said the country’s borders would open for vaccinated students on December 1, giving them what stakeholders describe as a “clear pathway” to arriving on the country’s shores.
“The most hurtful thing is that these people in power didn’t even think of us once”
However, the government has now announced that it will pause the reopening of the border until December 15, so they can gather more information on the Omicron variant.
Now, international students who had booked their flights and accommodation have told The PIE News that they have lost significant amounts of money as a result of the delay.
“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 $2,000 AUD. Needless to mention the enormous mental torture it brings.”
Deepesh told The PIE that his course starts in February 2022 and that he has already deferred twice from this year to next and has paid fees 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.
In a statement, the Australian government said that the decision to pause the reopening of the borders was made on the basis of medical advice provided by the chief medical officer of Australia, 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 holiday maker 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.”
Oscar Zi Shao Ong, national president of the Council of International Students Australia, told The PIE that the amount of money students have lost on flights depends on airline policies and if students booked the flights themselves.
“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,” he 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.
Saad Ahmad, a Pakistani student with a bachelor’s from Holmes Institute Melbourne, told The PIE that the delays have meant he has lost money on flights.
“I paid like 170,000 Pakistani rupees, which is approximately AUD$1,500,” he said.
He explained that as well as losing money on flights, he is now facing complications with his visa.
Ahmad completed his degree back in 2019 and went home for a holiday before looking for work on a 485 visa (a temporary work visa for graduates).
However, the pandemic meant that he was unable to return to Australia. His 485 visa is now set to expire on December 10.
Concessions have been made by the Australian government for students like Ahmad who have not been able to make the most of their 485 visa because of international border restrictions and they will be able to apply for a replacement visa.
While the concessions have been welcomed by students, they will only be able to apply for a replacement visa from July 1, 2022.
“I’ve been crying since morning because I feel like my life is completely destroyed because, you know, I worked so hard… It’s just not fair”
Ahmad said he wants to do a masters but that he must first travel to Australia to get a bridging visa which will enable him to stay in the country until he can get a new student visa.
If his visa runs out on December 10, he will have to wait until July 2022 before he can enter Australia.
The other alternative is for him to apply for a student visa in his home country, however he worries the processing times will further delay his plans. He says this has all been disruptive for his plans and has taken a serious toll on his mental health.
“The way this government’s been dealing with all these visa processing and everything, the processing times have gone way up,” he said. The flight to Australia was his last chance to get to the country and so get a bridging visa.
“I’ve been crying since morning because I feel like my life is completely destroyed because, you know, I worked so hard… It’s just not fair,” he told The PIE.
The impact of Australia’s border closures on students have been significant. A report earlier this year by CISA found that some 93% of international students stranded overseas have experienced significant mental health issues.
The PIE contacted the Australian government for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.
Update on 01/10/2021
A spokesperson from the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment said:
- On the advice of Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, the Australian Government has taken the necessary decision to pause the next step to safely reopen Australia until 15 December 2021.
- We are aware that some students had already made arrangements to come to Australia, and may be affected by this pause.
- The Government’s settings and plans are still in place to support the return of international students, skilled migrants and other cohorts, and we look forward to welcoming them back to Australia shortly.
- The Australian Government is encouraging all education and training providers to continue to support international students offshore through expanding options for online studies, considering fee waivers or reductions, as well as ongoing student support services – including counselling and mental health support services.
- Counselling and mental health support is available to international students located onshore through their education provider and through services funded by the Government and community organisations.