When 24-year-old Rini Dharva heard the news last week of Australian borders reopening to international students and temporary residents, she’d rushed to buy tickets on one of the first flights to Melbourne. Unfortunately, just as quickly as the Australian Government had made the announcement, it decided to defer the plan until 15 December, awaiting further information on the Omicron variant.
The decision has, once again, left thousands of Indian travellers in the lurch.
“My tickets were booked for 7 December from Chennai, and they cost me around $2,200,” Rini told Indian Link. “I barely got them because of the rush (after the announcement). Now I’ll have to cancel or reschedule depending on the airlines’ guidelines.”
As far as she’s aware, there’s now a cancellation charge of around $85 she must shell out, on top of the $112 spent on a flight ticket from her hometown of Ahmedabad to the international airport in Chennai.
“I can’t describe how many problems my family and I are dealing with because of this travel ban. My father is a government official, a professor if I’m being specific. He’s spent every penny he’s earned on my education. And what did he get for this? What am I getting from Australia? Nothing,” Rini said.
She’s among thousands of Indian students who leaped at the chance to return, quitting jobs, rejecting internship offers, and now sitting with their fingers crossed that borders will actually reopen to them again.
An international student at RMIT University, Rini has only one semester left to go in her degree. She’s spent much of it studying online.
She stated, “No one’s going to trust the government’s decisions anymore. Many have left the Australian dream behind to go to Canada or the UK.”
Numerous social media users continue to point out that, despite strict border regulations, the Omicron variant has still been detected in Australia with a sixth case recently confirmed in NSW.
“I’ve never understood why PM Scott Morrison thinks visa status (affects) virus transmission,” one Twitter user wrote.
With the pause on international travel once again, Australian borders remain open only to fully vaccinated citizens, residents, and their immediate family. The government has stressed this is a “14-day pause” with the hopes of reopening borders as soon as possible.
“We are acutely aware of the impact that this will have on individuals, families, and businesses here in Australia, but I do stress this is a 14-day pause,” Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews explained.
“The temporary pause will ensure Australia can gather the information we need to better understand the Omicron variant, including the efficacy of the vaccine, the range of illness, including if it may generate more mild symptoms, and the level of transmission.”
But after nearly two years of uncertainty, international students remain unconvinced that the situation could improve after 15 December. For many, there have been too many false promises of their return.
“I get up every morning to look up news coverage regarding the borders opening, every statement about international students from any official feels like a drop of water in a dessert,” said Divij Gupta, an international student at University of Western Australia (UWA), Perth.
After the PM’s announcement last week, he had purchased flight tickets for 3 December from Mumbai to Melbourne. His bags were packed, accommodation was booked, PCR tests and other required documentation was completed. Instead of boarding the flight, he’s now faced with cancellation charges of $250 for circumstances out of his control.
His father Ashish Gupta is understandably troubled by the sudden decision that has allowed them little time to prepare or respond.
“Australians ought to know how our kids are being used as cash cows. We spent around $2,500 on flight tickets and we’re already paying $38,000 per year as tuition fees. I didn’t imagine they could be so insensitive,” he told Indian Link.
NSW’s pilot plans will proceed as planned, with charter flights on 6 December and 24 December bringing 500 international students to the state. They will be subject to the new quarantine measures implemented due to the Omicron variant.
Other international students like Rini and Divij, though, will remain tuned in to Australian press conferences, hoping for good news on their return.