Australian Prime Minister Morrison asks visa holders to return homeNepali students say they are worried they will be left in the lurch as pandemic unfolds.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s statement asking foreign students to go home if they are unable to support themselves in the face of the coronavirus crisis has thousands of Nepali students in the country worried.
Talking to journalists in Canberra on Friday, Morrison said his country can only focus on its citizens at the time of a pandemic. “These (student) visas, and those who are in Australia under various visa arrangements, they are obviously not held here compulsorily,” said the prime minister on national television.
“If they are not in a position to be able to support themselves, then there is the alternative for them to return to their home countries,” he added.
Australia has been the most preferred country for the Nepali students seeking education abroad for more than five years. Nepal is the third on the list of countries that send the most number of students to Australia. According to the Ministry of Education, of the 85,758 no objection certificate letters the government issued to Nepali students, between July 17, 2o18 and the end of 2019, 42,631 were for Australia. Reports by Australian agencies suggest that 65,746 Nepali students have enrolled in tertiary education programmes in Australia in the last two years.
Following Morrison's statement, Nepali students say they are worried that they would be left in the lurch if the country further plunges into the crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has already killed 28 in the island nation so far.
“At this stage, I feel very vulnerable and helpless. We don’t have anywhere to go; we don’t have any organisation that can speak about us and look after us,” Sunayana Yogi, a bachelor’s degree student at the Australian Institute of Higher Education, told the Post over phone.
She said students who have enrolled recently are worried the most after Morrison’s statement on Friday that first year students were expected to be able to meet their expenses on their own.
A report published by the Sydney Morning Herald in December quoted experts as saying that it was unlikely that Nepali students could genuinely afford to study in Australia, and were likely involved in exploitative work to pay for their tuitions. A majority of students travelling to Australia for higher studies depend on part-time jobs, at least for their accommodation, even as the rules require them to have financial resources to support themselves financially for at least a year.
Organisations advocating for the rights of students say many students, including those from Nepal, will be in trouble if the Australian government only focuses on its citizens in time of crisis. They say that many students have already lost their jobs and there are signs that the situation will deteriorate.
“I find Morrison’s statement very discriminatory. It is going to leave a long-term impact on thousands of students,” Bijay Sapkota, former president of the Council of International Students. Australia, an association of the international students, told the Post over the phone. “Many students are worried about their future and it’s really disturbing.”
He said that Morrison’s statement hurt those who contribute billions to the Australian economy every year. In 2018, the international education sector contributed $ 24 billion to the local economy.
Education consultancy operators who send students to Australia say that the statement by the Australian prime minister is disturbing for prospective students as well.
“Australia has remained a safe academic destination for Nepali students,” Kumar Karki, former president of International Education Representative's Initiative of Nepal, one of the representative bodies of education consultancies, told the Post. “Morrison's statement could change the way people look at Australia.”