It could hardly be a worse time to run a business that relies on the flow of overseas travelers to this country.
- English school principal says ‘Australian fortress’ mentality has surfaced during pandemic
- The school does not have enough international students to offer English courses
- Federal government halved number of international arrivals without clear timetable for reopening borders
International borders are closed and likely will remain so for the next 12 months.
The number of authorized international arrivals has been temporarily capped at 3,035 per week – down from 6,370 – as part of a four-phase strategy to get Australia out of COVID-19 restrictions.
Behind all this there is something worrying for the general manager of the English language school Inforum Education.
â€œWe are traditionally a multicultural country and I think the multicultural thing seems dead in the water,â€ said Simon Craft.
â€œDuring this pandemic it has been very easy for the government to point the finger at not only Australians stranded abroad, but also anyone coming from abroad.
The number of students is collapsing
The school‘s usual cohort of more than 240 students fell 98% in the wake of the pandemic.
Russian Alena Shtervets, who graduated last week, was one of the few people left in the last English class offered.
â€œIt’s sad of course,â€ she said.
“I would like to continue studying English, so I hope the school opens soon.”
Ms Shtervets said living on the Gold Coast during the uncertainty of 2020, while trying to learn the local language and support her family, was intimidating.
“I cannot visit my mother, I cannot visit my brother – they live in Russia.”
More than a year after international borders were closed, Ms Shtervets said the inability to return to Russia presented financial difficulties.
“If the government gives permission, [my husband] has to go to Russia because of business, â€she said.
“[We] spend a lot of money on [a plane] ticket and on his return, he must do confinement at the hotel for $ 3,000.
“[For] two years, you can’t move. “
Push for more travel bubbles
A 2020 Mitchell Institute report estimated that international education contributed $ 37.5 billion to the economy before the pandemic.
But in October of last year, applications for student visas slumped by up to 90%.
According to the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, as of June 28 of this year, there were 315,298 student visa holders in Australia, up from 578,000 in October 2019.
While Mr. Craft praised the federal government’s phased plan out of COVID-19 restrictions, he said it lacked a detailed timeline.
“Our government does not seem very open to international arrivals of any kind,” he said.
“We are not advocating that all borders be opened tomorrow.
“Countries like Japan and Korea, maybe Thailand, even some Western European countries as they get some of their cases under control.”
In June, Singapore and Australia pledged to work towards a â€œsafe and calibratedâ€ travel bubble, but no deal was finalized.
Millions of help but no longer needed
While a small number of international students have entered Australia on charter flights, Mr Craft said: “We would be happy to help students cover the cost of quarantine” if other similar arrangements are made. .
“It’s like that ‘Fortress Australia’ mentality – that people from overseas are going to bring this COVID virus into this country and we have to lock them up,” he said.
“This is an easy way out for many politicians rather than advocating leadership and getting Australians used to living with the virus.”
A ministry spokesperson said a $ 53.5 million program for international education providers had been implemented, which included $ 17.7 million in fee relief and a fund to provide grants of up to $ 150,000.
Mr Craft said he applied for government grants and reoriented the company towards online learning and elementary school tutoring to make ends meet.
“If we didn’t have these two in business, we would probably be forced to shut down the business entirely or at least hibernate until international borders reopen for international students,” he said. .