For the longest time, Australia protected its people from the novel coronavirus – while the world reported its first, second and third waves, Australia was relatively safe. But Australians had to pay a huge price for it – strict border restrictions meant families were unable to see each other during emergencies (unless an exception was made), or celebrate holidays together. International travellers were banned, including international students which is Australia’s third biggest export.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics exports from international education were valued at at $18.8 billion in 2014-15. Similarly, the international education industry is also responsible for the creation of some 130,000 jobs in Australia.

At the crux of this industry are international students – and when Australian PM announced that “international students will be allowed to work more than 20 hours every fortnight, and will receive a rebate of their visa fees”, I cannot help but be skeptic.

Here’s why:

Today Australia needs those international students, to reopen its economy. But when international students needed the support of the Australian government, PM Morrison wasn’t there. It is hard to forget that PM Morrison had told struggling international students that “it was time to go home”, citing that “it was a requirement for students who come to Australia to be  able to support themselves in their first 12 months of study”.

For Australia, international students for the longest time has been an opportunity to exploit – at the core its federal policy of regional migration – sending people who wish to migrate to the country to regional areas where other residents don’t wish to live in – under the guise of “regional pathways to Permanent Residency”. As having lived as an international student there, I have seen many whose anxiety levels have risen as they move to an entirely new city or region – affecting individual mental well being. Till date, many are yet to come in terms with the change.

And why wouldn’t Nepali students (or students from other developing countries) not fall for the trap? Because there is hardly any future for Nepalis here – the state is perpetually unstable, corruption is at an endemic high, the system is unwilling to change, and additionally we have ministers who make such insensitive comments on social media.

For the Home Ministry, students going abroad should be a concern, not something to be celebrate. Say an average semester fee in a university in Australia is AUD 10,000 – that is AUD 10,000 per student being exported to Australia. The AUD 630 fee does not amount to a meagre 10% on the fees, and additionally, the student will receive the rebated money in Australia – which means that AUD 630 will be reinjected within Australia’s economy.

How can a Minister for Home Affairs celebrate Nepal’s already depleting foreign reserves dwindling, it is hard to fathom. For a Home Minister, students choosing to study abroad over national universities should be a matter of shame – and it should beg the question that “why aren’t students choosing to study in Nepal?”

Regarding the twenty hour work limitation, the questions to be asked is until when is this rule applicable – because, with a majority of universities undergoing summer holidays at the moment, many students are already allowed to work more than 20 hours every fortnight.

Meanwhile, the comments section on Minister Khand’s post is quite a lively space – some are sincerely commending him for the good efforts he has made in being able to get students more working hours, while others are criticising him for the insensitivity. The best ones are the ones where the lines of sarcasm is blurry.