When Covid-19 cases started to emerge in April 2020 and Australia sealed its border, ‘Go Home’ was the message that Australian president, Scott Morrison, gave to international students like me.
However, it wasn’t that simple. I had travelled to and settled in Australia and after two years living there, it had come to feel like my home. When lockdown hit, I found myself loosing jobs, friends and pretty much everything that was important in my life. I couldn’t face loosing Melbourne on top of that.
As more and more flights were cancelled and the price of those that were left only increased, I was locked down and also locked in.
The stay-at home orders continued and I made the decision everyday to stay in Australia and not return to England. I lost my job and as an international student, I had no financial support from the government. However what I did have was my indepedence, a close circle of friends around me and the knowledge that no matter how dire the situation was over here, it was a darn sight better than the escalating Covid numbers back in the UK.
In the fourteen months since the first lockdown, my life, like so many stranded internationals has been a rollercoaster of emotions. I have gone through seven jobs. I have faced months of holding out on going home in case the lockdown was going to end. I have spent hours working out my finances.
When Melbourne finally opened up again in October and hospitality jobs were plentiful, I was still only allowed to work for 20 hours a week (because a condition of the student visa is that you have to prove you have adequate funds to support your studies). Well, what about when a global pandemic hits and maybe you can’t get a flight back home? What about when family members loose jobs and the financial backing that you did have dries up? In May 2021, the government finally removed the 40 hour fourtnighly cap for international students. It’s 14 months too late.
Australia’s educational providers are now closing due to a lack of students. Hospitality and tourism industries are struggling to find staff and it’s all because the internationals have gone. Only now, the government has been forced to take action.
As someone in their early 20s living abroad alone in a pandemic, I needed support earlier and I was one of the lucky ones. I’ve seen more friends forced to leave Australia over the last year, than there are states. I have seen friends leave a country that they also loved because they couldn’t find a job or couldn’t pay their school fees (fees of which no payment plans and no discount was given despite having to study from home).
For the last few months, you would be forgiven to have thought that the pandemic was over in Australia. The state borders have been largely open, capacity limits widely expanded and having a boogie on the dance floor permitted. However, for people like me, the end seems like a long way off.
It is predicted that Australia’s intentional borders will not open until mid 2022. As a temporary visa holder, that means that until then, if I leave, I cannot come back.
So why stay?
Well, while Australia enjoyed freedom for most of this year, my friends and family back home have spent most of it locked down. I wasn’t going to leave Australia to go somewhere where the Covid cases were some of the highest in the world. The 20 hours a week that I was legally allowed to work weren’t enough to cover my rent, my school fees and my cost of living. But what was the alternative?
With the current relaxation of working hours for international students and the introduction of the 408 Covid visa, there is some hope for those living temporarily in Australia. Finally.
Undoubtedly, the pandemic has taught us a lot of things but maybe in the future, we can learn to take better care of those who live in a country other than the one they hold a passport for.
I think all of us have relaxed how dull a world without travel looks. Well, the same is to be said for a world without migration and that is the future that we potentially face if policy doesn’t change.