One Year After Border Closure: International Students Campaign for Justice19 April 2021
The federal government and the University of Melbourne have given little hope to international students stuck overseas despite a successful online campaign calling for action.
On March 3, #justiceon5march was trending on Twitter in India and Pakistan, two major international student markets for Australia. The hashtag storm was started by Voice of International Students Australia (VoISA), a group of stranded students who launched the campaign with three key demands for the federal government:
- To allow international students to quarantine at student accommodation.
- To grant PhD students immediate travel exemptions for accessing labs and on-campus facilities.
- To extend the validity of subclass 485 visas.
Asma, a Pakistani PhD student and core member of VoISA, urged the government to exclude international students from the travel ban as soon as possible.
“The government had promised in December that some plan and news will be conveyed in the February meeting, but that didn’t happen. We decided to demand justice in the March 5 cabinet meeting.”
“We hoped that the campaign would remind the government of their promises and their responsibilities toward us,” she said.
While the campaign successfully brought public attention to the issue, the tens of thousands of tweets made little difference to the attitude of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who refused to provide a specific timeline for returning international students in a press conference two days later.
“The opening of international borders, we don’t think is wise at this time.”
“We’ve always been happy to work with the international education sector if they want to put in place supplementary self-funded quarantine arrangements and flight arrangements,” he said.
Monica, a graduate student from the University and member of VoISA, was not surprised that the Prime Minister passed the buck to universities.
“I used to be angry and disappointed when I heard these words, but now I feel calm and it’s not unexpected.”
“The Australian government has made it obviously clear that they have no intention of letting students in,” she said.
After the government dismissed the possibility of international students returning, students turned to another influential stakeholder, the University of Melbourne. This year, the University has experienced a 22 per cent decline in international student enrolments compared to pre-COVID estimates.
After signing several petitions and sending emails to University officials, Monica eventually received a response from the University reiterating recycled points about students returning and online teaching.
“I wish our university [could] do something practical instead of just saying. It seems to me that they sent the email to comfort students who are taking online classes, and actually they do nothing,” she said.
A spokesperson for the University told Farrago, “the Victorian Government’s proposal to bring in international students will need to be agreed by the Victorian Cabinet ahead of being presented to the federal government and National Cabinet for ratification.”
“We will continue to work tirelessly on ensuring our international students are able to return to campus as soon as safely possible.”
The federal government and the University are yet to provide certainty not only to international students stuck overseas, but also to 485 temporary graduate visa holders and PhD students.
They have been locked out from studying in Melbourne since 20 March 2020, when the Australian government announced the closure of international borders.
The Victorian government allowed tennis players worldwide to fly to Melbourne for the Australian Open, but the plan for opening borders for international students remains unclear.
This story is ongoing.