‘The lockdown has left me with no future’

By Harshad Balakrishnan
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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