This article looks at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international students, focusing on
Portuguese-speaking African and Brazilian students during the lockdown of spring 2020. Using
evidence from interviews conducted with 27 students domiciled in Portugal, we illustrate some of
the challenges faced by students when coping with the pandemic, including difficulties in meeting
the cost of tertiary education and the centrality of working to sustain their stays abroad, alongside
the emotional impact of prolonged domestic confinement and separation from families. We
also consider the paradoxes of online teaching, which have made visible the digital gap between
local and international Global South students in the context of their stays. In this sense, pre-existing inequalities are more at the centre of students’ concerns than new issues raised by
COVID-19, a pandemic that served to reveal former injustice in the context of global capitalism.
In our conclusion, we argue that there is a need for greater recognition of the vulnerabilities
facing certain African and Brazilian students at Global North universities in the context of contemporary neoliberalism, including their dependence upon precarious work. Policy responses
include the need for a more serious involvement and responsibility by both home and host higher
education institutions in the lives of their students abroad.