A stranded Chinese student’s frustration with Australia

Australia border restrictions
International students are set to return to Australia from December 2021. Source: Spencer Platt/AFP

On Nov. 22, 2021, Prime Minister Scott Morrison eased Australia border restrictions and formally announced more than 200,000 international students can enter Australia without a travel exemption. 

For Chinese student Eugene (name changed upon request), however, that is 20 months too late. He has been barred from continuing his master’s degree in person since October 2020 when he was not able to renew his student visa. Below we speak to him on how hard Australia border restrictions have been on him and what’s he’s gone through. 

Why choose to study in Australia?

My interest in my course aligns with my passion and after finishing my bachelor’s in Australia, I wanted to pursue further my master’s degree there. 

Before the Victoria border restrictions took place, it was known for its diversity and welcoming culture. That was when I decided to embark on a journey to Australia.

I did consider Canada but ended up choosing Australia because of what I saw and heard about the Melbourne lifestyle which, at the time, was mostly positive.

What obstacles did you face with Australia border restrictions?

There are so many. As I’m stranded, I needed to find a place to live, food to eat and survive in a country that I’m no longer familiar with. 

Most of my currency is locked in Australian dollars and the banks over there. The trading currency has become extremely difficult in China with also a big concern on the internet restrictions. 

There have been many times where accessing my emails has been a  problem, let alone attending classes. I found myself in a critical financial situation with no income to survive, friends I couldn’t see and a long-distance partner. 

Any certainty of my future has drifted away. The fear and anxiety pile up easily these days and it really feels like my days and nights are passing by.

As I go through these emotions, the very thing that’s destroying me is loneliness. From interaction at uni, the government in Australia, people in general, it’s been tough.

Nobody cares or wants to understand a “non-citizen’s” experience. Racism is higher than ever since the pandemic began. 

I find it difficult to explain my situation to anyone because they don’t get what it feels like to be stranded, to have no support and resources, a home to go back to and a future that’s constantly denied. 

Sometimes, I question what I have done to deserve this and how my story and life has come to such a desperate point. I built my life in Australia for a long time and now it’s gone. Each day is such a struggle. 

What do you think the solution is?

To really help get students back rather than just talking. 250 students per week is an insult since there are more than 60,000 students stranded from only Victoria. It would take nearly a decade if they decide to let only 250 students in a week. 

What has your uni done to support you?

My uni made the decision that people who are no longer enrolling would not be eligible to be considered part of the pilot plan in Australia. Students who are stranded (such as myself) are stuck in a loop between taking a leave of absence and taking a small chance to get back to Australia.

We would not even be considered to be back in Australia unless we continue to pay a lot of money each semester for the mere chance of being invited to the pilot plan. This plan also seems unlikely based on the number of flights available currently.

What backup plan do you have?

All of my backup plans have failed as I patiently wait for the Victoria border restrictions to lift. I’ve been waiting since December 2020. 

Any plans I have would always come down to the ultimatum on whether I should give up the life I built in Australia or continue to wait with no end.

What would you advise international students who want to study in Australia?

Don’t come. The education policy, immigration policy, and the racism situation in Australia are insane and inhumane. Don’t be misguided by their empty promises. 

I have already wasted years of my life and I really hope nobody else needs to suffer like this.