BY HANNAH COHEN
Monash University students from New Zealand are being forced to make a decision as the COVID-19 pandemic continues: complete semester one back home, or stay in Australia with barely any government support.
Like many of the estimated 650,000 New Zealanders who call Australia home, Kiwi students are able to live, work and study in Australia under a Special Category visa. But it is classified as a temporary visa, meaning holders are ineligible for almost all government benefits except, notably, the JobKeeper Payment.
Second year engineering student Alex Miller said he could no longer afford to stay on campus in Australia, as he was unable to continue his work as a warehouse employee and a math tutor.
“I had some savings but if I wasn’t working at all I would have eventually run out of money, so because of my financial situation I was kind of forced to go home,” Mr Miller said.
Mr Miller also said he just felt safer returning to New Zealand.
“Just the fact that I can be at home with family and if I do get sick or anything, I’d be at home and that to me is safer than being in another country,” he said.
He moved out of his room at Deakin Hall, taking up Monash Residential Services’ offer to cancel his residential agreement free of charge.
“I knew before I came to Australia I wouldn’t get any support if something happened.
“But I do kind of think it does suck that as New Zealanders, we have this relationship with Australia, but then it’s only one way. Australians get everything in New Zealand but New Zealanders don’t necessarily get that in return.”
Second year law student Angela Wang said she reached out to Monash Residential Services to request a rent reduction before she made the difficult decision to return to New Zealand.
“We sent group emails where over a hundred people signed their names to ask for reduction in rent and it was rejected,” Ms Wang said.
Hoping to eventually return to Melbourne, Ms Wang did not cancel her residential agreement, wanting to hold onto her room in Jackomos Hall.
“It’s definitely really unfair, I still need to pay for rent even though I’m here in New Zealand and they won’t help,” she said.
“I plan for things to go back to normal. Go back on res, go back to uni and pretend like this didn’t happen.”
But other Monash University Kiwis have made the decision to stay put in Australia.
Arts student Dom Van Uden said despite many students leaving their halls to go home, he felt safest staying on campus.
“Basically most of my life is at uni because I live, work and study here,” Mr Van Uden said.
“As long as things are still open and people are around, my situation is to just stay and be studying in the halls and hopefully get to see my parents sometime soon.”
Mr Van Uden’s hours at work have been cut, but he recognises that “it’s better than not having any job”, since he is not eligible for Centrelink.
Law/arts student and Monash New Zealand Students’ Association president Geena Lee said she was frustrated about the lack of government support her family receives after living in Australia for three years.
“I’m here, my parents are working and paying taxes and doing everything, but the only thing we get is Medicare. [I] don’t even get student concessions for PTV,” Ms Lee said.
“The only thing we get is Medicare and domestic fees, but no HECS.”