Crises affect international students' overseas experiences, but crisis theory is rarely considered in international education studies. This article provides a comparative study of two countries, using a 'most similar cases' research design, to analyse host-nation government responses to crisis situations. The two countries are Australia and New Zealand. The crisis in each case relates to racial discrimination and violence against international students. The article finds that Australia and New Zealand each had a 'long-shadow crisis'. Yet, Australia's governmental response was more systematic and comprehensive, mainly because of the formation of a pro-action 'advocacy coalition' which was formed in the context of a federal political system. The article discusses key implications for international education studies, highlighting that governmental structures matter in crisis response, and that crisis theory is important to interpreting policy challenges, especially in the era of COVID-19.