Delay to Australian border opening devastates Vietnamese int’l students

By Binh Minh   December 6, 2021 | 01:59 am PT
Delay to Australian border opening devastates Vietnamese int’l students
People sit in the arrivals section of the international terminal of Kingsford Smith International Airport the morning after Australia implemented an entry ban on non-citizens and non-residents intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease in Sydney, Australia, March 21, 2020. Photo by Reuters
Vietnamese international students remain in limbo after Australia reverted its plan to reopen international borders in response to new Covid-19 variant Omicron.

Pham Anh Nguyet was happy, thinking she would go to Australia after waiting 20 months, despite pandemic uncertainty.

The girl from northern Nghe An Province, currently living and working in Ho Chi Minh City, got accepted to a university in Sydney at the beginning of this year. But because of the outbreak, she had to defer her admission and start online classes in September.

After shutting its borders in May 2020 and allowing only a restricted numbers of citizens and permanent residents to enter, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Nov. 22 the country would reopen its border to foreign visa holders on Dec. 1, including international students and skilled workers who have had two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

About three days after Morrison's announcement, Nguyet decided to book a flight on Dec. 23.

A few days later, when she heard about the new Covid variant Omicron, the college freshman tried to reschedule her flight to an earlier date due to concerns Australia might close its borders after only a short time of reopening.

At first, Nguyet calculated she wound have to pay a total VND2.7 million (around $118) to change her flight to an earlier date. Undecided, she returned to the airline's website and found the ticket price had been lowered. Feeling lucky, she changed her ticket to Dec. 9.

But Nguyet's fears came true when Australia pushed back its international border reopening date by two weeks.

"On Nov. 29, Australia announced the postponement of border opening until Dec. 15, which confused me."

She said that if she changed her ticket now and Australia extended its international border closure, she would lose money once more.

In the wake of the upsetting news, Nguyet has no idea what to do.

She added that many of her friends studying in Australia, who had finished their exams and were on summer break, also bought tickets and changed their departures to an earlier date.

"I want to move to Australia first, then see how things go. I will look for a job to earn extra money and make a living while waiting for the next semester to attend in-person classes," Nguyet said.

After learning about the postponement, international students like Huynh Minh Anh have tried to remain optimistic.

Anh has been studying online and has just finished the first year of her Master of Data Science course at Monash University, Melbourne. She will start her second year in February 2022.

She said that before the announcement on Nov. 22, Australia had planned to gradually bring back international students from December under a pilot program.

According to ABC News, hundreds of international students will arrive in Sydney next week, despite the federal government delaying the easing of border restrictions because of Omicron. The first charter flight carrying 250 children will land in Sydney on Dec. 6. The second flight carrying another 250 children will arrive on Dec. 24.

Monash University previously sent out notices and surveys to ask students whether they want to return to school.

Anh was not on the flight list in December because the program prioritizes students who need to do an internship or have to study in the lab.

"Receiving an email saying I was not selected for the first batch meant I wouldn't be able to go to Australia in December. But on Nov. 22, when Australia annouced it would open its borders to international students at the same time, I was very happy and surprised," she recalled.

On Nov. 24, she bought a ticket from Singapore Airlines to Australia on Jan. 21, 2022.

She also started finding a house with her friends and updating herself on requirements for incoming international students.

But a few days later, when Australia detected the first Omicron case, Anh began to panic, wanting to change her ticket to an earlier date.

When she learned reopening was delayed for at least two weeks, she though about going to Australia in December, even though she has yet to find accomodation.

For the past few days, she couldn't eat or sleep due to anxiety.

"I feel like I am in a limbo, wondering if I’d be able to make it to Australia or not. My spirit began to decline because I thought about the situation where I had to pay a house deposit but I couldn't move in due to prolonged border closures," Anh lamented.

After consulting friends in Australia and HCMC, Anh decided to reschedule her flight to Dec. 27.

Calling the airline's representative office in Vietnam, she grew impatient when put on hold for 25 minutes.

"I was finally able to reschedule my flight. If I waited a few minutes longer, I would have to pay an additional $100 in air fair difference."

Currently, Anh tries to keep her mind stable and continues to stay updated with the news. She is still researchingaccomodation and preparing to fly out on Dec. 27.

She added that many of her classmates from other countries had asked the Australian government to set a certain timeline. If they still can't go to Australia by the end of their first term, they would stop studying or move to another country.

Australia is one of the countries many Vietnamese seek to study.

On average, 8,000 to 12,000 Vietnamese students come to Australia each year.

Doan Loan, an employee of Duc Anh Study Abroad Consulting Company, said parents are worried at the moment. Many had booked tickets in advance while others are still waiting for the newest decision by Australia’s government before securing flights.

Loan's company recommends students and families book tickets on delayed, canceled or refunded flights because of theunpredictable pandemic.

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