‘We are not rich’: Stranded international students left out of coronavirus stimulus turn to charity

An international student stranded in Melbourne is pleading with the federal government for financial aid, stressing that he and thousands of others in his situation are not rich and should be treated the same as Australian citizens during the crisis.Adrian M, who asked for his surname to be withheld, arrived in Melbourne in November to begin a Master’s of Business at Deakin University. Like most international students, he relied casual income to pay his rent and other bills – but that has been wiped out by the coronavirus lockdowns.
“We are quite despondent,” he said. “There’s no money coming in and we’re stuck.”
Now up to his eyeballs in credit card debt, the 35-year-old from India has started a crowd-funding page in a bid to raise $25,000 to pay for his student fees and other expenses and escape the “vicious cycle”.
“I’m hoping the generosity of the Australian public will help,” he said.
Like thousands of other international students, Adrian has been forced to turn to charity for help with meals and groceries.
“The Salvation Army might give you a bag of groceries or a $20 voucher for Coles or Woolworths – churches have done something similar,” he said.
He added that perceptions among some in the community that international students were rich and could support themselves were not correct.
“There has been all kinds of analysis about where the average international student comes from and what their family financial situation is – the reality is we are not rich,” he said.
“We need jobs here to pay for our living expenses and we are limited to 20 hours per week. People are working as Deliveroo or UberEats drivers or hospitality staff. These aren’t high-paying jobs, so when that income is gone we don’t have any buffer.”
Earlier today, ABC journalist Nadia Daly posted a video on Twitter of long lines of international students waiting for free meals offered by Chinese restaurants.
The Thai community has similarly pitched in to support out-of-work students with free meals.
Adrian says it was “disappointing” to hear Prime Minister Scott Morrison last month tell international students and other visa holders that it was “time to go home” – because India, like many other countries, has shut its borders.
“If you can’t go back, you can’t go back,” he said.
Some individual universities have announced financial aid for international students – Deakin has set aside $25 million – and the Victorian government has also announced a fund, although details are still sparse.
Adrian says the money from Deakin, which works out to about $1000 per student, won’t be enough to pay for rent and utilities. The Victorian government scheme is capped at $1100.
He’s hoping the federal government will reconsider and extend eligibility for the JobKeeper wage subsidy to international students.
“We’re not being unreasonable, (asking for) thousands and thousands of dollars, just to be treated the same as a resident or citizen,” he said.
“What hurts even more is if you look at what other countries like England and New Zealand (have done), if you’re an international student there you’re still getting 80 per cent of your wage.”
He is also worried about the mental health of his younger peers.
“I think it helps to be older – I can only imagine if I was 18 or 19 having to deal with this,” he said.
“The psychological impact is something that has to be talked about.”