Coronavirus leaves international students stranded, cashless and needing a lifeline

Despite losing his job, Rafael Menta can't apply for the Jobseeker payment because he is an international student.

Despite losing his job, Rafael Menta can't apply for the Jobseeker payment because he is an international student. Photo: Rafael Menta

Rafael Menta has enough money to last him five weeks.

If he can’t pay his rent soon, he’ll be kicked out of his share house – and it’s not like he can just crash on a relative’s couch.

Mr Menta came from Brazil for his studies, and had been working casual pub shifts to get by.

This week he was left jobless after the two pubs he worked at had to close their doors because they were deemed non-essential amid the coronavirus lockdown.

The management and leadership student now fears he won’t be able to afford his $130 rent or the tuition for Albright College in Melbourne.

“I’m just, like, really scared right now,” Mr Menta said.

“If I don’t pay my school, they can tell the government and then I guess they can kick me out [because of student visa requirements].”

Because he isn’t a permanent resident or Australian citizen, the 36-year-old from São Paulo in Brazil does not qualify for Centrelink payments.

The Council of International Students Australia (CISA) is pushing to change that.

CISA national welfare officer Kasun Kalhara told The New Daily the council is hopeful the government will have a change of heart and extend financial help to foreigners.

Mr Kalhara said most international students are casual workers and therefore face a higher risk of job insecurity.

“We need international students to be equally considered in various support and welfare packages that are being offered by the government,” Mr Kalhara said.

“It’s not yet confirmed, but we are very much hopeful that it’s going to be announced soon.

“We believe Australia will do their best to look after all citizens and residents.”

Why international students need our help

Before he could migrate to Australia six years ago, Mr Menta had to prove he was financially stable.

He referenced his older brother Ricardo that in case of an emergency, he would be able to lend him money.

“But right now it’s an emergency everywhere and he (Ricardo) has a son, so I don’t really expect him to help me,” Mr Menta explained.

He isn’t holding out hope Brazil’s government will throw him a lifeline either.

“My government is really bad. The president is really, really, really bad. I think they [Brazilian public] have worse [conditions] there than I [have] here.”

Mr Menta can’t bear the thought of having to return to Brazil. Photo: Rafael Menta

Mr Menta is now on the hunt for a job.

But the odds are against him, with “hundreds of thousands, maybe a million people” left without work due to the shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

That estimated number of unemployed people was made by Government Services Minister Stuart Robert on 2GB radio after Scott Morrison announced stringent lockdown measures on Sunday, forcing thousands of Australians to queue outside Centrelink offices across the country.

Foreigners hold hope for announcement

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is among the chorus of voices calling for foreigners in Australia to be covered by the Morrison government’s bailout measures.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said on Tuesday that all visa categories were being examined so a decision could be made on whether foreign workers should receive welfare assistance.

In the meantime, Mr Menta is trying to save every dollar as he looks for a job – though the search could be hampered if he is restricted to lockdown hours in his student share house.

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