RLC in the Media: Supporting Sydney’s international students through the Covid pandemic

RLC's international student solicitor Sean Stimson reflects on key issues affecting international students during COVID-19.

Insiders Guide reports for City of Sydney

More than 178,000 international students each year study in Sydney, bringing huge benefits to our local culture and economy. But the pandemic has highlighted just how vulnerable these students are. Many have insecure housing, rely on food aid and are isolated from their personal support networks.

It takes a range of services to address this challenge. The City of Sydney has provided grants to organisations including Redfern Legal Centre, which has operated a free international students assistance service for the past 9 years, aiding around 700 students in 2019.

“The three biggest issues we’re seeing now are the same three that have always been dominant,” says Sean Stimson, solicitor with the Redfern Legal Service.

“These are housing disputes, employment-related issues and disputes with education providers. But the scale of demand for assistance around these issues is greatly increased.”

At the start of the pandemic, the Redfern Legal Centre saw an influx of disputes around housing.

“Many landlords attempted to evict international students, out of fear they wouldn’t be able to meet their rental commitments,” explains Sean Stimson.

The pandemic recession has badly hit the industries which have traditionally been strong employers of international students, such as hospitality. And as temporary visa holders, international students are not eligible for the JobKeeper of JobSeeker payments, leaving them with few options.

The City of Sydney’s grant to the Redfern Legal Centre has been used to support free access to My Legal Mate, an app that provides individualised legal advice and resources to students.

“The numbers of students we’re seeing are just the tip of the iceberg, which is why My Legal Mate is so important right now, as it allows far more students to access legal resources,” says Sean Stimson.

“The road map of legal issues that students face often follows the same path, and we know that many students are comfortable with self-managing their disputes once they have the resources.”

The City of Sydney’s grant, in conjunction with Study NSW, has made access to My Legal Mate free for international students across the state until June 2021.

Read the full article here (City of Sydney News, 9 October 2020)