Unlike other parts of the world, Australia treats international students, specifically those coming from Mainland China as cash cows, and doing so without providing any concessions, incentives and/or support, whilst these students are studying and living in Australia. It doesn’t appear to ever occur to the Australian Government that whilst sucking these students dry of their monies, that maybe, just maybe they require more support than just paying exorbitant fees for their studies and fueling the Australian economy.
According to South China Morning Post, there is:
About 150,000 Chinese nationals are enrolled at Australian universities, making up around 11 per cent of the student population – a far greater proportion than in Britain and the United States, which came in at 6 per cent and 2 per cent respectively, in a 2017 report from an Australian think tank.
This accounts for 28% of the entire international education sector in terms of investment, with Australian universities relying heavily on Chinese students and their investments. Therefore, in light of this the question needs to be asked is why are Chinese students being implicated in the travel ban imposed by the Scott Morrison Government? Chinese students, who are legally able to live, study and work in Australia being blocked, having their visas cancelled and being thrown in the trash heap is not a way to maintain the international education sector.
On February 1 of this year, the Australian Government announced that due to “health concerns” over the Coronavirus there will be a travel ban put in place for anyone coming from Mainland China except for those who are Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families. That was all that was announced to the public. What happened was that the Australian Government’s definition of “immediate family” was not the definition understood in our Asian culture – which includes grandparents etc. A number of families upon returning to Australia found themselves torn apart, with Aussies like Dean You, having his elderly mother separated and be kept in the dark for 5 – 6 hours at the start of this entry ban. At the end, Mr You had to buy a plane ticket and send his mother back to China. This is what he told the Sydney Morning Herald about this ordeal on February 2nd, the second day of the entry ban.
“We only have two options right now; I either buy a ticket right now, today, [for my mother] to fly back to China or … her visa will be cancelled and she will go into another detention centre and be sent back to China,”
“At least they could have given us a warning or something so we could have changed the [flight] schedule.”
“[I’m] very disappointed, frustrated and helpless,”
So it makes you wonder, if this treatment is being put upon Australian citizens and permanent residents, what about those on other visa types – e.g. Chinese students who are on student visas? Well it seems that there was no thought about how this ban would impact on Chinese students, and when this knee jerk policy was publicly announced, over 160,000 Chinese students were still in China, and left in limbo as to whether they could or couldn’t return to Australia. There are already news reports of students who returned and were on the plane whilst this announcement was made and as soon as they arrived in Australia, they were detained, searched, not given food, had their belongings confiscated and interrogated for hours – is this what being Australian mean? For now, it appears to be the case.
It is an easy argument to say that these actions such as the entry ban is justified, by using the excuse of “don’t attack me, because I am only concerned about my health”, but really if this virus came from the US or the UK, would we still be placing such travel bans, send our people to an offshore detention centre for 2 weeks and ban students from returning to resume their studies? I think not. When the UK had the Madcow disease and the US had H1Ni, there were no restrictions for Brits or Americans to come and go into Australia, nor were there any racial profiling or the excuse of “don’t attack me, because I am only concerned about my health”, but because the Coronavirus (COVID-19) started from China, everyone who has black hair and yellow skin must be a carrier of it (as seen with the numerous reports and examples of racism coming out of it all).
But let’s call it as it is: it is Australian society using this as an excuse to normalise racism and attack a community which they fear. It is the “yellow peril” returning, just transformed into a modern beast, and who is to blame? Well its the tabloid media and the Australian Government to blame for this all. This is an article in itself, which I will write in another opinion piece later one, but let’s get back to the plight of international students.
Having spoken to a number of students over WeChat and on other social media platforms it is clear that this entry ban has taken a huge toll on their motivation and their mental health. One student told me how she couldn’t do anything else but stay in bed for days straight feeling anxious and depressed about when she could return to Australia to resume her studies.
Another student told me how he felt so isolated because despite having already been in Australia for 2.5 years, he now felt unsupported and that the entire country was against him and all Chinese students. He had previously paid a deposit for his new rental upon returning and was about to start a new part time job. But all this is now non-existent as he like many others are unable to return to Australia at the moment. And no matter what universities are providing in terms of “Open” learning or part refunds/disbursements/subsidies/discounts, it all still doesn’t change the fact that Chinese students have been discriminated by the Australian Government and are essentially treated as “unwanted” foreigners.
This is why the ban needs to be lifted, and even though recently the Government announced the lifting for international highschool students, this is still a very small section and really ALL international students should be able to return to Australia, complete their 2 week quarantine and get back to their lives. There is no reason to place this entry ban on Chinese students and those who keep saying there is are just peddling the racist rhetoric. As Chinese Australians we are part of the global “Chinese diaspora” and we should be at the forefront protesting against this entry ban, instead of accepting it as part of our fate, or even worse supporting it because we are all apparently “Australian first” right?
Personally, I will continue to advocate for what is right, and to end this entry ban is the right thing to do. ALL international students have a right to return – if you live, study, work and contribute to Australia, you are considered Australian despite what visa you are on.
Header image via ABC News Australia