Australia has damaged its reputation as a location for international students. This damage is partly due to government action and partly due to our universities.
The damage can be repaired but we will have to start now.
What went wrong?
First, international students were caught in a double whammy – they could not qualify for Job Keeper or Job Seeker – and many could not “go home” because of border closures. That means they were stuck in Australia with no money.
The Australian Prime Minister’s messaging made matters worse, suggesting that those unable to support themselves should “make [their] way home”.
Second, 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.
These were the findings of a nationwide survey of 6,105 international students and other temporary migrants conducted in July – finding that 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.
“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.
It is a disaster for Australia – 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.
It is time for Australian universities and Governments to repair the damage.