Prime Minister Scott Morrison has signalled the Australian government will not help international students during the coronavirus pandemic, saying they should return to their home country if they are unable to support themselves.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge is expected to soon announce changes for visaholders in Australia during the pandemic, with millions facing visas running out, travel restrictions and work drying up.
Only certain visaholders, including permanent resident holders, special category visaholders and protected special category visaholders, can get Centrelink payments. Those visaholders, as well as New Zealanders on subclass 444 visas, are the only ones who qualify for the JobKeeper subsidy as well.
But Mr Morrison indicated no government assistance would be extended to international students still in the country.
"People should know though, particularly for students, all students who come to Australia in their first year have to give a warranty that they are able to support themselves for the first 12 months of their study," Mr Morrison said.
"That is a requirement of their visa when they come for that first year so that is not an unreasonable expectation of the government that students would be able to fulfill the commitment that they gave."
Mr Morrison also said visaholders were "obviously not held here compulsorily".
"If they're not in a position to be able to support themselves, then there is the alternative for them to return to their home countries," Mr Morrison said.
However with countries across the world locking down in response to COVID-19 and airlines suspending and slashing international flights, it is becoming increasingly difficult for travellers to leave.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said there were 570,000 student visaholders in Australia, 335,762 of which were connected to the higher education sector.
"Many of these international students are experiencing difficulties due to circumstances outside of their control. These students, like Australian students, have lost part time work through no fault of their own," Ms Jackson said.
"We welcomed the decision to include Australian students in increased welfare payments and will seek the government's assistance in ensuring that our current international student cohort is given the support it requires. It's in everyone's interests that both Australian and international students can complete their studies as we face the challenge of COVID-19 together."
The University of Canberra's Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Geoff Crisp said international students made an "enormous contribution to our university, our society and indeed our economy".
Professor Crisp said the university was working on ways to support students facing hardship because of the pandemic.
"The temporary loss of employment that has been caused by the pandemic creates financial hardship for everyone - including international students," Professor Crisp said.
"All universities are concerned about the impact that this hardship has on our students and we are all working to find ways of mitigating it so they can continue to undertake their studies. And many have already made sacrifices to come here so, as a university community, we will do what we can to support them staying and continuing their studies.
"We would obviously not seek to prevent students from returning home - that will be a choice around their personal and family circumstances - but we will do what we can to support their decision to stay and work through this crisis, if that is their wish."
The Australian National University was also approached for comment.
Other visitors warned to leave
Mr Morrison also said tourists and other visitors to Australia should also leave the country.
"As much as it's lovely to have visitors to Australia in good times, at times like this if you're a visitor in this country, it is time - as it has been for some while now - to make your way home and ensure you can receive the supports that are available where they are in your home countries," Mr Morrison said.
"At this time Australia must focus on its citizens and this residents to ensure that we can maximise the economic supports we have."
However visitors who were nurses or doctors, or with some other "critical skill" were welcome to stay, Mr Morrison said.
"For those backpackers in Australia who are nurses and doctors or have other critical skills that can help us in this crisis, then there'll be opportunities for them as well," Mr Morrison said.
Meanwhile working holidaymakers around Australia will be required to self-isolate for 14 days before moving to different parts of the country.
Mr Morrison said they would have to register for self-isolation through australia.gov.au and employers will check they have completed quarantine before signing them on.
"This is important to ensure we don't get a lift up in the virus that might be in in many metropolitan areas and it gets transferred to more vulnerable areas in rural and regional community which are not as yet experiencing the same levels of the virus being transmitted in those communities," Mr Morrison said.
"This is being done to ensure those producers can get the work done but also to ensure that that communities are protected."
Measures would also be put in place to protect working holidaymakers from being forced to live in unsafe conditions.
"You can't have six backpackers in a caravan up out in rural parts of the country. That's not on. Not going to happen. You need to have more strict rules around that and local governments and shires will be observing those health rules and working with their states and territories to put those conditions in place," Mr Morrison said.
- For information on COVID-19, please go to the federal Health Department's website.
- You can also call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080
- If you have serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, call Triple Zero (000)
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