"If they [foreign students] are not in a position to support themselves then there is the alternative for them to return to their home countries," says Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. (Photo: Lukas Coch - Pool/Getty Images)

Australia, one of the most preferred destinations for Indian students, on Friday (3) refused to offer any economic support to international students who were unable to support themselves in the ongoing coronavirus crisis with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying the country must focus at present on its citizens and residents.

”People should know though, in particular for students, all students who come to Australia in their first year have to give a warranty that they are able to support themselves for the first 12 months of their study,” Morrison said while addressing media in Canberra.

“That is a requirement for their visa when they come for the first year. That is not an unreasonable expectation of the government that students would be able to fulfil the commitment that they gave,” he said.

Morrison said that the country must focus at present on its citizens and residents. “These (student) visas, and those who are in Australia under various visa arrangements, they are obviously not held here compulsorily,” he said after a National Cabinet meeting with state and territory leaders.

”If they are not in a position to support themselves then there is the alternative for them to return to their home countries. We still have quite a number of people who are here on visitor visas,” he said, urging all international visitors to head back home in this current crisis.

“As much as it is lovely to have visitors to Australia in good times, at times like this if you’re a visitor in this country, it is time, as it has been now for some while – and I know many visitors have – to make your way home and to ensure that you can receive the supports that are available … in your home countries.”

India is the second largest source of enrolments in Australia after China with over 140,000 enrolments recorded last year. International students are allowed to work 20 hours a week under their student visa arrangement.

A former international student Karthik Arasu who has set up a group to help support needy overseas students in Melbourne, said: ”It is very unfortunate that international students have been left in limbo citing their visa conditions of proving they are financially fit to study in Australia…. Whole world was not prepared for it let alone the students.”

Another Melbourne-based former student Jasvinder Sidhu called it a “blunt” reaction from Morrison stating that the international students were the ones doing odd, casual and night jobs with low pay and now the government was now treating them as if they added no value.

However, Australia has relaxed restrictions for nurses or doctors or those having any other critical skills that can help in this crisis.

The prime minister said for them ”there will be opportunities … But our focus and our priority is on supporting Australians and Australian residents with the economic supports that are available.”

Major supermarkets and aged care providers are also allowed to offer more hours temporarily to international students employees.

According to official data, last year over 956,000 enrolments were recorded in Australia.

Morrison also said anyone in Australia from overseas who wanted to work in fruit picking and other such seasonal agricultural employment would be required to self-isolate for 14 days before travelling to “another part of the country”.

He said it was to avoid a “lift up of the virus” from metropolitan areas, where it is more prevalent, to “more vulnerable” rural or regional areas.

“This is being done to ensure that those producers can get the work done but also to ensure that the communities are protected,” he said.

The prime minister added that accommodation for workers must also adhere to strict health and social distancing requirements.

“You can’t have six backpackers in a caravan up out in rural parts of the country,” Morrison said. “That’s not on. Not going to happen.”