ANGELA Mesa was supposed to be welcoming her family from the Philippines to attend her graduation. Instead, she doesn't know when she will see them again.
"I don't think there will be any graduation ceremonies now - and I don't want to graduate without them," said Ms Mesa, 28, who has just completed her masters degrees in business administration and human resources management.
She's one of many University of Newcastle (UON) international students who have had their plans thrown into disarray due to COVID-19.
Students have been plunged into uncertainty - and even poverty - as they grapple with loss of income, inability to travel home and changes to their studies.
Ms Mesa has repaid a $2000 UON loan she used for rent. "It's not all about finances, there's lots of issues," she said.
"There's homesickness and a limit to the activities on offer.
"When Australia started lockdown the outlets for loneliness were also gone."
Premier Gladys Berejiklian flagged on Thursday the possibility of international students stuck overseas being able to return and spend 14 days in quarantine, but later said plans were "still in the formative stage".
UON Vice Chancellor Alex Zelinsky said face-to-face studies would resume in semester two, "so finding a way for our overseas students to be here would be a great outcome for all, not least the students".
"We are working with governments to look at how we can support the necessary quarantining to make that possible."
For those stuck in Australia, the NSW government was the last to announce a support package for international students, comprising $20 million for temporary crisis accommodation, free subscriptions to the multilingual My Legal Mate student app and a 24/7 support service through its COVID-19 hotline.
Federal Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon said the package was "welcome, but manifestly insufficient to fix this dire humanitarian issue".
She said 2000 were "struggling to keep their heads above water" and called on the federal government to provide a "lifeline", saying it "isn't just the right thing to do - it could also deliver a multi-billion reprieve to students, universities and the broader economy".
Newcastle University Students Association international students convener Noor Maulidiyah said the package was "better late than never".
"Other ways of communication such as online chatting should also be provided as not every international student is confident to speak."
Ms Mesa suggested student discounts for basic necessities.
She was one of hundreds to receive NIB-donated health and hygiene packages on Thursday.
"They said it was a little thing, but it's a big help already," she said.
"Knowing someone understands us and is there for us, there's a community that sees we exist, it's a good indication we are valued."
She also called for protection so students weren't exploited as they helped to rebuild the economy.
Saudi Students Club's Faisal Aldawsari said the 140 Saudi students still in Newcastle felt fortunate to receive financial support from their government.
But his friends from other countries were struggling.
"The Australian government's position has been slow and really kind of late - there's some kind of hesitation to support international students, who play a huge role and contribute to the economy."