COVID-19: International Students and Housing concerns

 The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a rise in unemployment, especially for international students working part-time. As a result of this, many find it difficult to pay rent or are just barely surviving with the monthly allowances they get from home.

COVID-19 & Accommodation for International Students (working title)

It was 4 p.m. in the afternoon when Yeon woke up and went to make her first meal of the day. The taste of instant noodles had become stale on her tongue, but it was all she can afford. Another day of no work is another day trying to save every dollar.

Yeon is not alone in her struggle. In Victoria alone, 780,000 people have lost their jobs  after social restrictions were introduced on March 30th. Without work, they have no  means of paying rent

According to a survey conducted pre-COVID-19, paying rent has been a struggle for many International students even before the pandemic. The survey reports that 22% of international students said they often go without necessities like food, so they can pay for their accommodation and 17% agreed that in the past year, they’ve felt like they could’ve been homeless. Now, with their jobs gone due to COVID-19, this has become even more of a pressing issue.

“International students were among the first to contact Tenants Victoria for assistance with housing because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Jennifer Beveridge, Chief Executive Officer of Tenants Victoria. “We started registering urgent concerns from international students as early as February 2020.”

“International students based in Australia also contacted us seeking guidance on how to deal with their major bills because they had lost work,” she explained.

Yeon Cham, a RMIT student currently in her final year, who worked two part-time jobs outside of university before lockdown, shared how losing work has affected her financial situation.

“Because now they only do take away, a lot of shops open late and close down early. So now, all part-timer’s hours are getting cut and only full-timers are working,” she explains.

“Sometimes, I’ll sleep until 4 p.m. in the afternoon just to save money from lunch.”

Tenants Victoria also received many personal stories from international students across Victoria, expressing the frustration and struggle this pandemic has inflicted on them.

international students who were told to return home by their governments found themselves stuck paying rental for places they can’t stay in. 

An international student who wished to remain anonymous contacted Tenants Victoria about circumstances many international students have found themselves in. 

“About a week before the lock-down happened, I signed a new lease for an apartment. However due to the situation, a week before the lease was going to start, I called my agent and told her I have to return home and hence cannot move into the new apartment. So I never moved to the new place and left the country the same day the lease was going to start. The real estate agent now wants me to pay the first month’s rent, advertising and re-letting costs saying that I broke the lease, even though it was out of my control,” they explained.

Responding to the outcry, on March 29th, Prime Minister Scott Morison announced a six-month eviction ban aimed to help those who have been financially affected by COVID-19. 

“All tenants in Victoria, including international students, will be covered by a six-month moratorium on evictions due to financial hardship, and a ban on rent increases for the same period,” explains Minister of Trade Martin Pakula.

“Our tenancy package also provides for free mediation for tenants and landlords if agreement cannot be reached on temporary rent reductions, and an $80 million rental assistance fund open to tenants regardless of their citizenship or visa type.”

However, the implementation of a six-month eviction ban brings to question whether tenants will be required to pay the backlog of rent once this pandemic is over. There is scarce information on the internet regarding this possibility, and an international student from the Australian National Institute of Business and Technology, who has chosen to remain anonymous, is worried.

“I lost my job due to COVID-19. Being unprepared for what is happening makes it harder for me,” he said. “I have to support myself, so without a job it is really really hard [to pay 6-month’s worth of rent].”

Working For Victoria, a program aimed to help those who have lost their jobs due to this global pandemic get back into the workforce, is also available for international students who are legally allowed to work in Australia.

The state government also announced an International Student Emergency relief fund on the 29th of April, where international students are eligible to receive up to AU$1,100 in financial aid. More information on the student relief fund can be found here.

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