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Nepalese international students in Australia: an emerging trope

By Serah Lee


It’s something we’ve all heard before. Culturally and linguistically diverse students travelling abroad to continents like Australia and America to pursue an overseas education and broaden their vocational horizons is a common trope we’ve all encountered at some point.

To this day, most of our foreign applicants in Australia come from China and India to study at renowned universities that fall under the Group of Eight, particularly Sydney University and the University of New South Wales. Tailing some distance behind these major countries in the international student movement is Nepal, which surpassed Brazil as the third-largest source of applicants in Australia between July and December last year.

The new figures come as a surprise, as Nepal is significantly smaller compared to large-scale countries like China, India and Brazil. According to the article by the Sydney Morning Herald, the increasing community of Nepalese nationals in Australia over the past decade was initially prompted by the decade-long Maoist insurgency (1996-2006) and subsequent word of mouth, and Nepalese media have identified Sydney’s Victoria University and Western Sydney University as major destinations for Nepalese students.

“There was armed conflict between the Maoists and the government, so we had a very terrible time – we lost lots of people. And in November 2006, we signed the peace agreement and that’s how it ended,” said Richa, a 25-year-old Nepalese international student studying a Master of Social Work at WSU.

Richa, who moved to Sydney from Kathmandu, Nepal at the end of June last year to pursue her second master’s degree at an Australia university, cited the post-war political instability as among the main reasons why people wanted to leave the country. She said that the 2015 earthquake and economic blockade that gripped the nation also accounted for the increasing Nepalese migration.

The secretary of the Nepali Students in Western Sydney University (NIUWS), who studied her bachelor’s in Social Work and her first master’s degree in Conflict, Peace and Development Studies all in English back home, said that her original plan was to pursue a postgraduate degree in Australia upon the completion of her undergraduate studies in 2015.

“I always had a wish to study abroad.”

However, as a social worker employed in the mental health program for AmeriCares – a global emergency response organisation – she felt obliged to stay and work for another two years in her country during the aftermath of the earthquake that claimed the lives of almost 9,000 Nepalese civilians and injured nearly 22,000.

“I always had a wish to study abroad.” Richa at Western Sydney University, Parramatta City Campus. Picture: Serah Lee

Richa, who is currently working as a lifestyle mentor for Disability Services Australia, said that the problem with studying in a country like Nepal was the lack of international recognition her degree received.

“I have been working as a social worker in Nepal for the past five years, but if I apply for any job in Australia they would ask for the AASW [Australian Association of Social Workers] accreditation. So if I want to work anywhere in the world they would ask for the international degree,” she said.

She said that in order for Nepalese people to be able to study at an Australian university, they needed to find a consultant agency that would act as an intermediary between the applicant and the university and be able to show the proof of their income.

Before contacting her own consultant agency, Richa conducted her own research on various Australian universities before applying for Western Sydney University. Her main reason for choosing WSU was because it was in Sydney, but she was also compelled by the university’s relatively recent introduction of the Master of Social Work as a postgraduate option, as well as its good ranking and reasonable affordability compared to other universities.

The DSA mentor, who has a brother staying in the US, also considered other countries like America and Canada. However, she said that the visa rules for migrants were stricter because of the Trump administration, and that she was attracted to Australia’s safety, climate and multiculturalism.

Despite choosing to come to Australia with her husband and pursue her second master’s degree at WSU, Richa’s goals aren’t solely focused on getting a permanent residency here.

“Wherever I find the opportunity, I’m willing to move there. But not my homeland for now. I’m completely open-minded. Once I complete my degree and once I get the licence and exposure, I can move to Canada, I can move to the US, any part of the world. It’s not like I have to stay here.”

On the other hand, Adarsha, another Nepalese international student studying a Master of Social Work at WSU, is hopeful to get a permanent residency with her husband in Australia and get a job in her field of expertise.

“It was a dream come true to be here in Australia. Because my sister is here, she’s been here for nine years already, so maybe I’m inspired by her being here, and it was always a dream to be here in Australia for me.”

The 27-year-old did her Bachelor’s in Social Work at the same university as long-time friend Richa and worked for a non-government organisation back in her homeland where the pay was good for work that wasn’t that hard.

“It was a dream come true to be here in Australia.” Adarsha at Western Sydney University, Parramatta City Campus. Picture: Serah Lee

Nevertheless, she was attracted to the better quality of life that Australia offered in terms of security, weather and lifestyle. Her sister is an Australian citizen and resides in Melbourne with her husband and child while running a business.

“You know in Nepal, there are so many people right now who are just dreaming to be in Australia right now. And back home, it’s like what is here,” she said.

Adarsha said that in Nepal, people aren’t getting the level of education they wish for because there is no proper licencing system for people with degrees like Social Work. This leads to their studies not getting recognised when they try to enter the workforce.

“For example, if I have a certificate from WSU, and a person better than me at everything has a certificate from Nepali university, I have a better chance of getting that job because I studied in Australia.”

Despite the Turnbull government’s decision to replace the 457 visa with the similar but stricter 485 visa this month, Adarsha believes that the visa change still offers scope for international students to seek opportunities in Australia.

Long-time college friends Richa and Adarsha at Western Sydney University, Parramatta City Campus. Picture: Serah Lee

“It’s not necessarily that you have to get a permanent residency within two years, but if you stay longer, there will be many opportunities you can grab, not only studying but if you’ve finished your studies you can join other things.”

Roshesh, a male Nepalese international student who is in his final year of studying postgraduate Social Work at WSU, said that the main reason people choose to study social work is because it is one of the gateway subjects to getting permanent residency in Australia.

“It’s in the occupations’ list, and that’s why people from other degrees do social work as well. Because for degrees like accounting, there’s no PR in Sydney, NSW so they are choosing alternative subjects.”

Unlike Richa and Adarsha, the 25-year-old first applied to study in the US, but had his visa rejected.

“I just wanted to get experience living outside.”

Other than WSU, Roshesh researched many universities and even applied to study at the University of Sunshine Coast in Queensland. However, he found out that WSU was quite popular and ranked quite well so he decided to apply there.

“I just wanted to get experience living outside.” Photo of Roshesh. Picture: Facebook (supplied)

Another way in which he differs from Richa and Adarsha is that he isn’t tying himself down to getting a permanent residency here and is keen to implement the education and skills he gains at WSU when he returns to Kathmandu.

“I’ll live here for some years after my studies to get some experience and then I’ll return.”