A surprise rule by China requires Chinese college students overseas to learn in-person if they want their education to recognized back home.
The rule has caused a housing rush for students. At the same time, housing markets worldwide are seeing rising rent prices.
Zoey Zhang is a student from China who will be attending a top Australian university. She is enrolled in a master’s program in marketing at the University of New South Wales.
She said finding housing in Australia has been extremely difficult. It has been so hard that she has considered sleeping "on the streets.”
About 700,000 students from China who are enrolled to study overseas have been left in a difficult position. But the crisis is more urgent in Australia. That is because its school year starts in February. In many other parts of the world, including North America and Europe, the school year starts in September.
Zhang said she panicked after the rule change. After three years of COVID-19 border closures, she and about 40,000 other Chinese students also going to Australia will be looking for a place to stay.
"I knew that finding a rental in Australia won't be easy, but I didn't expect it to be this difficult. Some are subletting their living rooms or balconies. I don't think I can do that," Zhang said from her home in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong.
The University of New South Wales said campus housing is now full. It said it was in the process of fixing up university apartments to rent to foreign students.
A spokesperson for Sydney University said its 2,400 dormitory beds near campus were taken. The university said it had reserved another 700 beds with other providers and negotiated lower prices with hotels.
Observers say even those planning to wait another semester to start school may struggle to find a bed. Many building projects for foreign student housing were delayed during the pandemic. It takes at least four years to complete one of the buildings.
Before 2020, Chinese students made up about 40 percent of the $27 billion that Australia earns each year educating foreigners. Those earnings dropped sharply because of COVID-related border restrictions.
But China's reopening is a "welcome sign" for investors, said Brad Williams. He is managing director of AMP Capital, Australia's third-largest owner of student housing properties.
Louis Liu is a Chinese student in Brisbane. She has started attending property viewings across the city. She films them for Chinese students who are still in mainland China. She said she films about two viewings each day and earns up to $27 for each one.
Joe Du is a real estate agent in Sydney. He said he rented a one-bedroom apartment to the mother of a Chinese student for $710 per week. That is about 40 percent more than the next most costly one-bedroom apartment in the neighborhood. The unit rented for $365 a week in 2022.
"We told her there was no need to bid this high,” Du said, “but she is genuinely concerned that her kid might not have a place to stay.”
I’m Dan Novak.