There are more than 500,000 international students in Australia, many whom have lost their jobs during the pandemic
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told tourist visa holders and international students it was time to return to their home countries as the coronavirus pandemic continues, if they cannot support themselves there.
After meeting with the National Cabinet on Friday, Morrison said those in Australia who are here under various visa arrangements and cannot support themselves that: “There is the alternative for them to return to their home countries," reports ABC Australia.
"Australia must focus on its citizens and its residents to ensure that we can maximise the economic supports that we have," he said.
However, the Prime Minister stated international visitors who have critical skills could be the exception.
"For those backpackers in Australia who are nurses or doctors, or have other critical skills that can really help us during this crisis, then there will be opportunities for them," he said.
International students have no access to the Federal Government's JobSeeker payment and are having to deal with the Covid-19 crisis without the financial safety net available to many Australian citizens and residents.
Morrison pointed out it was a requirement for students who come to Australia to be able to support themselves in their first 12 months of their study.
There are more than 500,000 international students in Australia, many whom have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
One of them is Sunday Mishu, a 37-year-old Bangladeshi student, who lost his job as a bartender at Darwin's Mindil Beach Casino two weeks ago after the venue was forced to close due to national coronavirus restrictions.
Despite suddenly finding himself unemployed, Mishu said he had enough savings to continue studying at Charles Darwin University.
"When it first arose it was quite stressful, to be honest," he said.
"It completely ruined my entire financial plan that I had set out for the year."
However, he said he believed other international students facing significant financial hardship might still not heed the prime minister's advice to return to their home countries. "We've already paid our fees," Mishu said.
"So if we choose to leave, what are the consequences? "Do we bear those costs? Or would the university give us our money back?"
The Council of International Students Australia (CISA) said the comments from the prime minister had left a lot of students with no hope.
"Due to lockdown enforcement in many countries, lots of international students are not able to [return home] at the moment, leaving them struggling everyday," the council said in a statement.
"Government is forgetting to consider things as their life here, education and if their visa will get extended.
"Because at the end when the Covid-19 passes and we start to get back to our routine, Australia will start marketing its education sector again.
"But why should international students consider coming here when the present students are treated this way?"
CISA said international students contribute to the Australian economy and are taxpayers as well — and should therefore be treated fairly.
"It is disappointing to see international students being disregarded," the statement said.
"There is a lot beyond monetary matters that needs to be considered and addressed which should not be shrugged away."