international students australia
Empty shelves seen in Melbourne, Australia as people panic buy ahead of lockdowns due to COVID-19. What should international students be aware of? Source: Shutterstock

Universities in Australia are taking measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, which means international students are being asked to stay at home.

Australia currently has 2,136 confirmed cases of the virus as of March 24, 2020, and eight people have passed away after contracting it.

New South Wales has the largest number of cases, 913 while the Northern Territory has the least with just five.

In a press release, Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson stated that universities in the country are taking prudent steps to safeguard students, staff and their communities.

Jackson said, “Things are moving very quickly, and all universities have mobilised staff and students in what is a national effort.

“None of this is easy and we recognise the challenges faced by our students and staff. But it is vital that as individuals and institutions we work together to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect the community. People’s lives depend on how we respond now.”

Here’s what to know if you’re an international student in Australia.

Be prepared to study from home

Although the directive does not include closing universities and schools, a number are taking it upon themselves to transition to online learning to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19.

The University of Sydney has announced that there will no longer be face-to-face teaching on campus starting from March 23, and others are expected to follow suit.

According to Universities Australia, universities are planning to implement contingency plans which include “restricting face-to-face teaching, working to ensure as many lectures and tutorials are available online, tailoring the physical learning environment to meet the new social distancing guidelines and assessing whether practical classes and laboratory sessions need to be amended or rescheduled.”

If your university has not announced any closures yet, make sure you have a good Internet connection and a working laptop to facilitate online learning when it comes into effect.

Don’t make travel plans

international students Australia

Passengers wait to check-in at the departures hall at the international airport in Sydney on March 18, 2020. International students in Australia are advised to avoid travel. Source: Peter Parks/AFP

Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison has announced today that all non-citizens and non-residents will be banned from entering the country from Friday, 9pm onwards. Australians returning from overseas can enter the country but will need to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Some international students in Australia may be tempted to go home, fearing a lockdown or quarantine where they won’t be able to get home for some time or being the few ones left on campus.

That urge is totally understandable but it’s wise to stay where you are, especially if your university asks you to self-isolate at home.

Travelling helps the spread of COVID-19 which can be deadly to elderly people and those with respiratory illnesses.

Many countries such as Malaysia have also implemented travel bans. While they won’t turn you away if you’re a citizen of that country, the ban is there for a reason: to close borders and stop the spread before the situation gets worse.

So international students in Australia – please do not make any travel plans for the time being and wait for official instructions from your university.

Important dates may be rescheduled

Depending on how well the country can contain the virus, universities are also looking at adjusting the academic calendar – which includes rescheduling graduation ceremonies and exams.

If you’re concerned about changes in important dates, get in touch with your international student office – but be prepared that they may not be able to give you any definite answers yet.

The situation is evolving but students should rest assured that their university is doing whatever they can to keep students informed on the latest updates.

Some international students in Australia can work more hours

Studying nursing? You may be called to work more hours in Australian hospitals. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, approximately 20,000 international nursing students in Australia will have their working hour restrictions lifted to “ease pressure on the aged care sector”.

International students in Australia can only work up to 40 hours every fortnight under their visa regulations, but now these nurses will be able to work the same number of hours as local citizens.

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