COVID border bans leave international students facing lonely Christmas in Australia

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Thousands of international students studying at high schools across Australia have been warned they might not be allowed to return for classes in 2021 if they go home for Christmas.

Year 9 student Alicia Goh hasn’t seen her parents since January, when she left Solomon Islands to start boarding school at St Margaret’s Anglican Girl’s School in Brisbane.

Despite missing them deeply, she has made the difficult decision to remain in Queensland for the summer holidays.

“I do want to go back but I was also thinking about the safe side and being cautious,” Alicia said.

The 16-year-old from Honiara said she didn’t want to risk being unable to return next year due to Australia’s coronavirus-related international border restrictions.

“If I wasn’t able to come back and continue my education that would be a real bummer,” she said.

It’s a predicament about 15,000 international students face with only a few weeks left of school.

The ABC understands the federal Education Department has warned parents that any student who leaves Australia may not be allowed to re-enter at the beginning of Term 1.

In Queensland alone, more than 460 students have applied to stay with host families over Christmas.

Principal Ros Curtis said while St Margaret’s would allow its international students to return home for the holidays, about 70 per cent had chosen to stay in Australia.

“They miss their parents, they miss their families so much,” Ms Curtis said.

“But their education is just so important to them that they’re willing to make that sacrifice.”

Ms Curtis said the school had asked the Queensland Government to let returning international students quarantine on campus if they did decide to leave for summer and then return to Australia.

“But unfortunately, we have limited facilities for that,” she said.

“We’re hoping somebody could come up with a solution for international school students.”

Students praised for their resilience

St Joseph’s Nudgee College in Brisbane is also calling on the Federal Government to take action.

Dean of boarding Christian Oneto said COVID-19 had taken a toll on students’ mental health.

“Our message to the Australian Federal Government is please understand that this is causing some incredible hardship on some international students who made a commitment … to come and be part of our education system,” he said.

“We need to do more to support them.”

He said two Papua New Guinean students in Year 12 decided to return home in March to see their families, and had not been able to get back.

“They haven’t completed any study at all this year and that [has] an incredible effect on those poor young men’s lives,” Mr Oneto said.

“Now both of them are trying desperately to return to Brisbane next year to repeat Grade 12.”

He said there were complications in catering for children in quarantine.

“Boys and girls under the age of 18 can’t quarantine by themselves without an adult, so that’s part of the complexity,” Mr Oneto said.

International student visa applications where applicant is outside of Australia

Since the start of coronavirus pandemic, applications for student visas where the applicant is outside of Australia have collapsed

There is also concern about the cap on international arrivals, currently about 6,300 per week, and the availability of flights.

Australia’s Department of Education has been contacted for comment.

Both St Joseph’s and St Margaret’s have been making accommodation arrangements for students who choose to remain in Australia, as well as providing pastoral support.

Ros Curtis said her students had shown incredible resilience over a difficult year.

“They have just been remarkable. We have admired them for their resilience and how focused they have been,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Queensland’s Department of Education said international students were an important economic contributor.

“The wider community greatly benefits from international students in both cultural enrichment and enhanced ties with other countries, as well as broader economic benefits,” she said.

Source: ABC News

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