There are more than 570,000 international students in Australia, fuelling an industry worth $35 billion a year. None of them are eligible for the government’s $130 billion wage subsidy package announced on Monday.
They have no welfare rights and no way of getting home as Australia and the world shuts its borders.
“Oh brother, it’s heartbreaking,” Mr Pucci said. “The situation is just starting. But in the next four to eight weeks it is going to be really terrible.”
Their families, many of whom saved up to send children to Australia, are also running out of funds as the coronavirus puts the shutters up on economies from Colombia to China.
“We are talking about thousands and thousands of them,” Mr Pucci said. “I had a phone call yesterday; this guy was sleeping in his car. Why? Because he doesn’t have a place. The family he was with kicked him out.”
Until three weeks ago, Brazilians Camila Cadore, 27, and Arlan Germano, 25, were studying English at Lexis in Manly and working in cafes. They drove up to Martinsville on Sunday. They say they are fortunate to be able to ride out the crisis for free at the forest-ringed farm. Thousands are not so lucky.
“We don’t have money to pay our rent,” Ms Cadore said. “Why if we are so important for the economy, why doesn’t the government worry about us? We are human beings like them.”
Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia and chair of the global reputation taskforce co-ordinating the sector’s response to COVID-19, has urged the government to help international students.
“At a minimum, this could include the ability to access any accumulated superannuation. The current regulations only allow a refund when the student leaves the country,” he said.
Mr Pucci said early tax refunds should also be on the cards as many students earned under the tax-free threshold of $18,200 and automatically received between $1000 and $1500 back each year.
The government would have to pay more than $6 billion to give international students access to the full JobSeeker payment of $1100 a fortnight available to unemployed Australians through Centrelink.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said the sector would lobby the government for greater support.
“We welcomed the decision to include Australian students in increased welfare payments and will seek the government’s assistance in ensuring that our current international student cohort is given the support it requires,” she said.
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Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said last week she was looking at a range of measures to help workers and students on temporary visas.
“I am currently working my way through those visa types to see what options there are available to assist those people,” she said.
International students experiencing significant financial hardship can apply to receive help under a $200 million government fund for bills and other essentials.
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra
Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.