'We Might not Be Citizens but We Are Still People': Australia’s Disregard for the Human Rights of International Students during COVID-19
26(3) Australian Journal of Human Rights (published online April 2021)
27 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2021
Date Written: April 8, 2021
Globally, in 2020, the health, social and economic consequences of lockdown laws that were enacted to contain the pandemic disproportionately disadvantaged temporary migrants. In his now infamous statement to visa holders in March 2020, the Australian Prime Minister contrasted “good times” during which “it’s lovely to have visitors to Australia” with “times like this” in which non-residents were no longer welcome in Australia. Despite its relative global affluence, Australia excluded temporary visa holders from virtually all government wage subsidies and other financial support packages. Against the backdrop of Australia’s human rights obligations to migrants in its territory, this article empirically examines the impact of Australia’s response to the pandemic on international students in Australia, the largest group of long-term temporary visa holders who, with their limited work rights during their studies, have become a de facto low wage migrant workforce in this country. It presents new large-scale data from a July 2020 survey of over 5,000 international students and recent graduates reflecting widespread inability to pay for essential needs (including food and medical needs), lack of access to secure housing, lack of access to emergency support, and their experiences of racism, discrimination and social exclusion in Australia during the pandemic. The article concludes that there must be a national and global reckoning with the immediate and long-term impact of government policies on migrants during the pandemic and reinvigoration of the relevance of the human rights framework during “times like this”.
Keywords: COVID-19, international students, migrant workers, wage subsidies, racism
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