During the COVID-19 pandemic, governments in countries across the world have been doing what they can to help their citizens, keep them afloat, look after their mental health and attempt to mitigate some of the emotional, financial and psychological havoc that this virus has wreaked. There are a group of people that have fallen through the cracks, however. These are the numerous international students and graduates living and studying in a country that is not their own and unable to get support from either their home country or their host country.

In Australia, as of September 2019, there were some 720, 000[1] international students studying across Australia. Of these students, over 50% hail from China or other Asian countries[1]. The export income generated in Australia from international students is $37.6 billion[2]. Unfortunately, when the pandemic broke out, this group was overlooked and only recently, have Australian states made changes to assist international students and graduates living on the temporary graduate visa, which allows international graduates to work in Australia for 1-2 years to gain practical experience in their field.

If you are an international student in Australia and you are struggling, it is completely understandable.

Not only do you have the stress of financial difficulties, considering all the jobs cuts as a result of this pandemic, but you are far away from family and friends and your core support network. You have the added emotional stress of knowing that you can’t be near loved ones if they fall ill and even if you have the possibility of returning home, which in many cases is not an option due to border closures, you have the fear of jeapordising your studies and the even bigger fear of potentially contracting the virus while travelling and bringing it home to your families. It is absolutely normal that your mental health would be taking strain during this pandemic.

Before we get lost down the road of despair, let’s look at the things you can do to help yourself and the resources that are available to you.

Financial support by state:

 Queensland

Queensland International Student Crisis Assistance Package
Queensland has put aside $10 million to support international students who are experiencing severe financial hardship due to COVID-19. Check if you are eligible here. If you are a student and you pay separate utility bills (in your name and not as part of your rental payment), you are eligible for the Queensland Government’s $200 household utility bill relief, which should automatically be taken off your bills.
[More info]

New South Wales

NSW have put together a $20 million package to fund temporary crisis accommodation for international students. The NSW Government will fund up to 20 weeks of accommodation at approved student accommodation and homestay providers for international students with no home or means to pay for one .To apply, visit Apply for international student COVID-19 crisis accommodation There is also a 24/7 international student support service, which you can access through the NSW Government COVID-19 hotline (13 77 88). Here, you can get free advice and information on other support available, such as the moratorium on rental evictions and medical, mental health and legal support. Foodbank and the Rapid Relief Team, along with the NSW government, are delivering emergency relief packages and food boxes to those who are being instructed to self-isolate.
[More info]

Western Australia:

StudyPerth Crisis Relief (SPCR) is a program aimed at looking after the needs of international students during COVID-19 by providing support services such as food, shelter, and health and wellbeing and legal rights support. Be sure to first contact your education provider to check how they can support you before you apply to SPCR, as students who don’t get support from their institution will get priority.
[More info]

Victoria

If you are an international student in Victoria and have lost wages and work due to the COVID-19, the Victorian Government’s $45 million International Student Emergency Relief Fund may be able to help you with a one-off payment of $1100. Other measures being taken are one-off rent relief grants, utility relief grants and assistance in finding work through Working for Victoria. Victoria has also set up a dedicated COVID-19 online support hub, where you can find support programs and services such as food relief. You can get free advice and support from the Study Melbourne Student Centre, including information about mental health services and referrals to other services.
[More info]

South Australia

South Australia is helping international students through their International Student Support Package. The South Australian Government have teamed up with the University of Adelaide, Flinders University and the University of South Australia to match the funding they provide to international students. For international students not enrolled at one of these three universities, a $500 emergency cash grant may be available to those who meet the criteria.
[More info]

Northern territory

You can get low-cost food with your student card at the Baptist Care Community Food Hub.
If you have been in Australia for longer than 12 months, you may be able to access your superannuation early. Login to myGov website and following the intention to access coronavirus support instructions.
[More info]

Tasmania

If you are a temporary visa holder, you may be eligible for the Pandemic Isolation Assistance Grants to help with financial hardship. To access this service, call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738
[More info]

Australia wide

Ask Izzy helps people in crisis find services available to them in their area. These services include emergency housing, food, health, counselling and more.
Australian Red Cross is providing an emergency fund for international students who are in crisis without support. International student visa holders should first contact the Red Cross by email to access the support.
International Student Support Network ISSN 
If your education provider confirms that you are vulnerable as a result of COVID-19, you may be eligible for a heavily discounted ISSN homestay placement, include a private room, meals, utilities and host family support.

Counselling services available for free:

  • eHeadspace
    eHeadspace provides free online support/counselling to young people 12 – 25, based in Australia. They also have free resources on their website. Their app, ‘Weathering the Storm’ gives you access to meditation, sleep, and movement exercises.
    In NSW, international students can access mental health support from the Mental Health Hotline, which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. PH: 1800 011 511
    The ASKPEACE Project provides counselling and support for people from non-English speaking backgrounds. PH: 08 8245 8110
  • Beyond Blue
    This non-profit organisation can help you with things like depression, suicide, anxiety and other mental health issues.
    Online coronavirus forum
    Phone: 1300 22 4636
  • Lifeline
    Lifeline provides a 24-hour support & suicide prevention line and can help anyone who is in personal crisis.
    COVID-19 Phone: 13 11 14

Getting a Mental Health Care Plan

The Australian Government requires health care providers to cover the benefit amount listed in the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) for out-of-hospital medical services. This means international students are fully covered for sessions with general practitioners (doctors) and psychiatrists. But students are only partially covered for up to 10 sessions per year with psychologists, having to cover the remaining fee by themselves.

In most cases, students must pay the full amount up front and will only get the part payment back by going to the office of their insurance provider. To see a psychiatrist or psychologist you must first be referred by a GP and there’s a two month waiting period for pre-existing conditions. Further coverage is available at an increased cost.

Learn more about how to get on a mental health plan here.

[1] https://monitor.icef.com/2019/11/australian-international-student-enrolments-up-11-through-september-2019/
[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/977688/australia-export-income-from-international-education-services/#:~:text=Export%20income%20from%20international%20education%20Australia%20FY%202013%2D2019&text=From%202013%20to%202019%20the,billion%20Australian%20dollars%20in%202019.

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