international students in Australia
The rapid developments in COVID-19 in Australia spells plenty of uncertainty for international students in Australia. Source: SAEED KHAN/AFP

Recent spikes in COVID-19 cases are causing more uncertainty and anxiety for international students in Australia.

Major universities in Sydney are calling for state and federal governments to get a pilot scheme to bring in next year’s intake of international students ready from September, reported The Sydney Morning Herald. The scheme would protect billions of dollars in revenue for the sector and the state. 

Previously, two pilot programmes to bring international students to Canberra and South Australia have been postponed due to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the country. 

At the time of writing, no new date has been set on when the pilot programmes would resume. 

The report said university leaders are desperate to establish a pilot scheme for the spring to demonstrate students can be quarantined safely to restart the flow of students properly next year. 

They also want the NSW government to take the plan to the national cabinet and for the federal government to relax preconditions for the programme going ahead.

Much uncertainty for international students

international students in australia

Many international students have been unable to secure flights home. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

These are precarious times for Chinese students in Australia. Some 100 students have “escaped” from Melbourne to Sydney ahead of the Victoria–New South Wales border closure out of fear of being unable to catch flights home to China, reported ABC News.

Many of these students who fled Victoria said they paid between 200 to 800 Australian dollars to travel agencies to ferry them to NSW in small groups by car days before NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced her decision to close the state’s border.

In response to Melbourne’s COVID-19 outbreak, NSW has temporarily closed its border with Victoria for the first time in a century starting from July 8, with strict penalties in place for anyone who breaches the new rules. 

Many students resorted to travelling by road due to limited flights from Melbourne to Sydney. 

According to the report, one Chinese student Judy Jia, said her parents had been very worried about her and were begging scalpers for international airline tickets, with one-way economy flights from Sydney to Shanghai costing between AU$5,000 and AU$12,000.

Jia told the ABC that she had to leave Melbourne urgently because her student visa was expiring soon, but could not get a ticket to fly to China.

Instead, she found a driver who could take her to Sydney on Chinese social media platform Xiaohongshu after seeing over 120 new cases in Victoria.

“I can only rely on scalpers who promised to get me a ticket by the end of the month. Mum said I should leave once we get one, no matter how much it will cost,” she was quoted saying.

Tensions rising

The political spat between China and Australia doesn’t look to be easing soon. 

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, China has warned its citizens they could be arbitrarily searched and have their property seized in Australia.

The warning by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs over Chinese social media site WeChat on Monday night follow’s Beijing’s earlier warning to students and tourists that they could face racial discrimination in Australia during the pandemic.

“Australia’s relevant law enforcement authorities arbitrarily search Chinese citizens and seize their items, and these circumstances could cause harm to Chinese citizens in Australia, as well as the safety of their assets,” said the ministry.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has responded by saying the claim of arbitrary searches had no basis in fact, said ABC News in a separate report.

“We reiterate our rejection of China’s assertions that it is unsafe to visit or study in Australia. These assertions are factually incorrect and disinformation,” a spokesperson said.

“Australian law enforcement and other agencies abide by Australian law at all times. There is no basis to the suggestion Australian law enforcement authorities conduct arbitrary searches or property seizures.”

China had previously warned its students to reconsider studying in Australia, saying that there have been “multiple discriminatory incidents against Asians in Australia”.

Australia’s top universities reject claims that their campuses are unsafe for Chinese students.

Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson had said that these statements are “disappointing and unjustified”. 

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