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Scott Morrison had a simple message for more than one million international students and temporary visa holders in Australia when Covid came: it was “time to make your way home”.
Now a comprehensive survey of 6,000 international students and other visa holders lays bare the brutal consequences of that decision.
“Thousands used open responses in the survey to express their anger and distress at the government’s policies and hundreds specifically mentioned the prime minister’s message to them.” Some visa holders were unable to heed Morrison’s call to go home even if they wanted to.
One in five say flights home were unavailable, 19% say the borders of their country or key transit areas were closed and a quarter couldn’t afford the inflated ticket prices.
As the pandemic worsened, income sources dried up. With many working in heavily casualised industries, the survey finds 70% of respondents lost their job or saw most of their hours cut. Meanwhile, a third weren’t able to afford essentials because their family back home could no longer support them at the same level.
Nibarchana Oli has tried to avoid thinking about the prospect that she might soon be, as she puts it, “sitting on the road”.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she says. “We don’t have money and we don’t know how we are going to pay rent for next month.”
They're running out of money in Australia, but say going home is not a simple solution because of the difficulty in booking international flights at this time, the cost of flights, the risk of COVID-19 in their home countries and the fear of losing their visa or educational opportunities.
It's left many reliant on charity to survive.