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Chinese international students barred from returning to Australia over coronavirus fears

Scott Morrison’s China travel ban to hit Australian universities.

Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP.

Scott Morrison has announced a ban on people travelling from China, with the exception of Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family. 

This decision effectively bars thousands of Chinese international students who are home for the holidays and Lunar New Year from returning to university, likely threatening the financial stability of the higher education sector.

The ban results from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s assessment of the “increased risk posed from travellers from all of mainland China” in spreading the coronavirus.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson has announced that universities would seek to extend the offers of flexibility they have recently made to international students, including online study and deferred study options.

As of 2019, there were 153,000 Chinese higher education students in Australia, accounting for 38% of all higher education overseas enrolments.

Approximately 24% of Sydney University’s total student population comes from China, contributing more than half a billion dollars to the University’s revenue.

“I’m disappointed that the current government is just following exactly what the US government is doing,” SRC General Secretary and Chinese international student Abbey Shi told Honi.

“Most students that have been trapped in China understand the virus and are taking preventative methods way more carefully than the institutional instructions.”

SRC President Liam Donohoe condemned the ban as “Sinophobic”, noting that many University of Sydney students and SRC student Office Bearers would be affected by the ban.

“We are in the process of reaching out to the University to clarify what this means for international students from mainland China, urging them to treat affected students fairly and in a way that ensures they are not disadvantaged.”

Hundreds have already signed a petition opposing the ban that has been circulated amongst Chinese international students at the University.

Honi has contacted the Group of Eight universities. Only the Australian National University (ANU) has provided a response to the ban as of publication.

A spokesperson from the University told Honi the University “is not making arrangements to close and still expects to commence semester one 2020 as planned.”

“We are working on arrangements to support our students who aren’t able to arrive immediately and are committed to helping them complete their studies with as minimal disruption as possible.”

“We have also set up a hotline for affected students to call.”

More to come.