Face behind the statistic

I met Harriet and her family last weekend. It was transformative for me, but because of existing government policy banning HELP for certain classes of migrants, not transformative for them.

Harriet (name changed) grew up in Zimbabwe, before moving to a refugee area in a neighbouring African country in search of a stable food supply for her three children and the hope of work.

Last year Harriet joined her husband in regional Australia on a humanitarian visa.

After working as a nurse’s aide in Africa, Harriet has quickly found work in an aged care facility, and loves caring for older people – even uncomplaining about working night shifts.

She desperately wants to train as a nurse so she can do more for the elderly Australians she looks after each night, but as the wife of a skilled migrant visa holder, she is unlikely to be able to afford to study in the near future.

The family eat pasta regularly. No sauce. Just pasta. They send money from their modest wages back to Africa to keep relatives alive, and until recently lived in a tiny one bedroom flat. Yet they keep stating their gratitude for being here and they just want to work to care for older Australians. There is absolutely no chance they will be able to afford university fees for at least a decade on their own.

This year, as multiple governments prepare to spend millions to try to entice domestic students into nursing, early polls have revealed a dramatic drop in demand for nursing studies.

Widening the availability of HECS would be life changing not just for Harriet and her family, but also for those that she goes on to care for. For the nation, it is an inexpensive policy solution to a workforce calamity.



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