Legal Requirements to Care for international students who cannot return home

Many international students are facing the challenge of being unable to go home, or being unable to travel to Australia.

Schools are currently dealing with navigating changes to homestay arrangements, for example for one family to have a break, or contemplating students going on holidays with homestay families.

School’s duty of care heightened

The National ESOS Code and supplementary requirements of state regulators, which, in the case of the VRQA in Victoria, are extensive, prescribe a number of strict documentary and standard-based requirements.

There is a heavy emphasis on child safety in living arrangements, with schools no longer permitted to outsource the vetting or review of homestay arrangements.

None of these requirements changes as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Indeed, there are new additional clarifications and requirements to take account of the fact that many students will not be going home for holidays.

Additional rules and requirements (VRQA’s resource)

The VRQA has published a resource which assists schools to meets these requirements in the current climate. (refer to VRQA guidance)

It is an ongoing obligation of schools to monitor the government’s advice in relation to COVID-19 and to take this into account regarding the care, welfare and safety of students.

A few key matters to note:

  • Remote checks: While schools must approve a homestay only after all elements of homestay checks are completed, during COVID-19, schools can undertake site visits of the homestays remotely.
  • No rented premises or holiday camps: Students are not permitted, during holidays, to live in commercially operated premises and cannot attend residential holiday programs. If moving to another homestay (for example, to live with another school family during school holidays), the new homestay is subject to the same rules as the permanent/regular homestay;
  • Sharing a room ok: The students may share a bedroom in the homestay during holiday period, provided two students of the same gender share one bedroom and that the parents of the international student have given informed consent.
  • Going on holidays: In relation to travel, while the school may permit the students to go on holidays with their homestay families, they must ensure that proposed accommodation is suitable and that homestay families and the students are aware of the existing travelling restrictions due to COVID-19, and that the parents of the student have given informed consent. For students returning home, schools must ensure such transitions do not include overnight stops in any Australian cities.

Schools must continue to keep:

  • Informing parents about homestay and boarding accommodation available in the school;
  • Ensuring the students are aware of the precautions that must be taken to protect themselves from COVID. Further, the students must have knowledge about the directions given by the government that must be followed such as wearing masks, social distancing, and other travel restrictions;
  • Evaluating the need of each student in relation to accommodation and coping with absence from family for an extended period;
  • Evaluating the school’s facilities and whether they can provide support to international students and have appropriate boarding or homestay accommodation; and
  • Employing sufficient international student’s coordinator to provide support to the students

How we can help

For more information or guidance regarding your obligations and duty of care, please do not hesitate to contact us.