‘The lockdown has left me with no future’

By Harshad Balakrishnan
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Image used for representational purpose only. Photo by Mag Pole on Unsplash

No assistance with employment, no assistance to my mental state, no assurance I can stay in this country or to make a decent livelihood… Harshad Balakrishnan on the plight of international students stranded in the lockdown

When news of the lockdown and Covid19 flashed I was rather numb to it. I wasn’t sure if it would affect me. I was doing multiple jobs, as a tutor in my university, and at an indigenous center. I was also working part-time at a restaurant, which I was going to quit as I was getting more students to tutor. Little did I realize how badly I would be affected.

I started a while ago at a restaurant as a delivery driver but then lost the job as my second-hand car gave up on me in the midst of the Townsville floods last year. I remember that all the residents got some compensation but as an international student I got nothing.

Now, during the lockdown it feels as if history is repeating itself for me.

The year began well as my university gave me a tutoring job and even offered a job after I graduated, in finance which is my passion. I decided to do a course on education as without it universities sometimes do not hire lecturers. But all my plans came to a standstill when the nation went into partial lockdown.

The Prime Minister announced that temporary residents may leave if they can’t handle themselves. This was exactly the time when I had to apply for a job. It was a blow after blow. My university cut down on staffing and my head was the first to roll. As an international student I had nowhere to go. I didn’t work more than the curfew and I felt my dreams to settle down in a decent job were never going to become a reality.

“I feel more alienated than ever. I see other international students cry, not being able to get groceries. Some cannot pay rent”

The only reality I could see was that residents will be given first preference, obviously. I had no other options but to clean tables and wash dishes until things settle and I can get a job. I know two people from the university who ended up going back to their home countries because of lack of opportunities.

People come to Australia with a dream. But from the day I have landed here, I have felt like an outsider. It has been a constant struggle and it does not seem to be getting better.

The dream I was shown clearly does not exist. I feel more alienated than ever. I see other international students cry, not being able to get groceries. Some cannot pay rent. At least my landlord was supportive. But why do I have to live off others when I pay three times more than the locals? Is my blood and sweat used to build the economy and the tax that I pay just simply used to build their country and leave me helpless?

$30k! I could live comfortably for years with that money and not live off anyone. But what have I got now? No assistance with my future… no assistance to my mental state. No assurance that I can stay in this country or to make a decent livelihood.

I am not the only one. I am one of several thousands of helpless invisible international students stuck in this vortex. They are the first to be sacrificed in any unlikely event.

Every company I apply to is not accepting temporary residents or international students. I have kept a positive frame of mind throughout my time in university. But now I feel I am just kidding myself.

The reality is that it’s a bad bargain. To be in a country that treats you like you are nothing more than a cash cow.


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