The announcement has been hailed as a “positive step”, and will benefit students who have been unable to access government payments, such as the new JobKeeper funding – introduced as a result of the pandemic.

Currently only offered upon leaving Australia, the new legislation will provide international students who have been in the country longer than 12 months with immediate access to accumulated superannuation (pension program) funds.

Applications for the early release of superannuation will be accepted through the government website from 20 April.

Acting minister for Immigration, Alan Tudge, said the changes announced will help temporary visa holders who may have lost work hours as a result of the coronavirus continue to support themselves while in the country.

My message to our international students is: you are our friends, our classmates, our colleagues”

“In line with changes being made for Australian citizens and permanent residents, most temporary visa holders with work rights will now be able to access their Australian superannuation to help support themselves during this crisis,” he said.

However, echoing sentiments shared by the Australian prime minister on April 3, Tudge added that temporary visa holders unable to support themselves under the arrangement over the coming six months are “strongly encouraged to return home”.

“For these individuals, it’s time to go home, and they should make arrangements as quickly as possible,” he said.

Tudge added that the government will further engage with the international education sector, which is already providing some financial support for students. Some providers are offering fee discounts, he said.

Minister for Education in Australia Dan Tehan added that the 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 international students”.

Those students working in aged care and as nurses will also be permitted to work beyond the 40 hours per fortnight that international students are limited to.

Students employed in major supermarkets also had those hours extended to “help get stock on shelves during the high demand”,  but that extension will be removed from May 1, the government added.

“I also encourage our international students to take advantage of the mental health support offered by their education provider. My message to our international students is: you are our friends, our classmates, our colleagues and members of our community,” Tehan said.

The Queensland International Education and Training Advisory Group has proposed a National Hardship Fund, in an open letter to the prime minister Scott Morrison.

“As part of the COVID-19 response package, we are requesting your government to urgently consider establishing a National Hardship Fund to support the International Education and Training sector,” the letter read.

The industry is “subject to severe stress”, with the country’s 570,000 intentional students and its providers at risk.

“Without some support, these students will become a public health and humanitarian risk for the Federal, State and Territory governments,” it continued.

Universities and TAFE face “significant financial challenges”, while private colleges and English language schools are “at imminent risk of closure”.

“We believe that it is imperative to help keep the doors of our education institutions open, and provide support to alleviate the hardship being experienced by these students, many of whom have lost part-time jobs, and are struggling to meet their tuition and accommodation payments while finding money for food and groceries,” the letter noted.

“Given the lack of any political appetite from the major parties to permit international students’ access to welfare programs currently available to Australian citizens, a National Hardship Fund appears to be our best way forward,” chief executive of the IEAA, Phil Honeywood explained.

“We believe that it is imperative to…provide support to alleviate the hardship being experienced by these students”

Although many ELICOS students will not be able to access Australian superannuation or benefit from relaxed working opportunities, the initiatives are “positive steps towards including measures for international education in national support packages”, Brett Blacker CEO at English Australia said.

“Each week of this pandemic seems to bring a new challenge, but I am confident that our sector can meet these challenges,” Blacker noted.

“The ELICOS sector is full of innovative and passionate people, who are all working together to keep our sector alive and our students supported through the greatest challenge that our sector has ever faced,” he added.

“Any country that decides that international education is going to become a major industry… they need to be able to show that it’s a two-way street,” Honeywood told SBS News.

“That in difficult times, there is an acknowledgement that these young people do need help on a case by case hardship basis.”

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