Thousands of international students “sour” on Australia due to treatment during Covid-19

Three in five said they are less likely to recommend Australia as a place for study and travel based on their treatment during the pandemic.

“Many reported that because of their Asian appearance they were punched, hit, kicked, shoved”

A nationwide survey of 6,105 international students and other temporary migrants conducted in July has found 70% lost all or most of their work during the pandemic, while thousands have been left unable to pay for food and rent.

A report from UNSW Law Associate professor Bassina Farbenblum and UTS Law Associate professor Laurie Berg – co-directors of the Migrant Worker Justice Initiative – revealed more than half of survey respondents (57%) believe their financial stress will deepen by year’s end.

One in three international students said they forecast their funds will run out by October.

Thousands also expressed anguish and anger over the federal government’s decision to exclude temporary migrants from JobKeeper and JobSeeker support.

According to the report, hundreds linked their distress to the prime minister’s message that those unable to support themselves should “make [their] way home”.

“They expressed feelings of abandonment and worthlessness: “like we do not exist”, “they don’t see us. They can’t hear us”,” noted the report.

In addition, a quarter experienced verbal racist abuse and a quarter reported people avoiding them because of their appearance. More than half of Chinese respondents reported experiencing either or both of these.

“Over 16,00 participants described being targeted with xenophobic slurs, treated as though they were infected with Covid-19 because they looked Asian, or harassed for wearing a face mask”, said Farbenblum.

“Many reported that because of their Asian appearance they were punched, hit, kicked, shoved, deliberately spat at or coughed on by passers-by in the street and on public transport.”

One female Vietnamese student respondent explained that people used racist language towards her.

“[They] pushed me, saying that I was the reason for Covid and I should go away,” she explained, while a Chinese student said they had eggs thrown at them on their way home from school.

Following their pandemic experience, three in five international students, graduates and working holidaymakers said they are now less likely or much less likely to recommend Australia as a place to study or have a working holiday.

This includes important education markets such as Chinese and Nepalese students (76% and 69% respectively) who said they were now less likely to recommend Australia.

“I feel [the] Australian government doesn’t think of temporary visa holders as human beings but merely a money-making machine,” said one female Indian international student.

“I feel [the] Australian government doesn’t think of temporary visa holders as human beings”

“It’s appalling to see the PM consoling the citizens saying that we are all in this together but at the same time telling migrants to go back home in a pandemic.”

According to the survey, one in five survey participants (19%) indicated they could not return home because their country’s border was closed.

Another international student observed, “It’s completely hypocritical that we’re important for tax purposes, and in the sense that we contribute billions of dollars to the economy as university fees, but are treated as some breed of untouchables”.

Berg warned that Australia will bear the diplomatic and economic consequences of these policies for decades to come.

“Many of those suffering in Australia now will return home to become leaders in business and politics, holding roles of social influence around the region. Their experiences during this period will not be quickly forgotten,” Berg added

Australia is expected to be one of the hardest-hit countries in the world by the impact of the global pandemic with Universities Australia predicting 21,000 jobs cut and the loss of 30% in income from the sector over the next four years.

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