Stop international students from working and risk fewer ‘bums on seats’

Australia’s overseas student intake has surged to 486,000 since 2013, but these numbers risk ‘dropping like a stone’ if their work rights are severely wound back.  Tackling the issue is a two-edge sword.

While there’s a clarion call to crackdown on those overseas students, allegedly signing-up to cheap ‘Mickey mouse courses’ with the express purpose of working, there’s equal concern that they’re being stiffed in pay-stakes when they do.

According to former consumer watchdog Allan Fels and head of a high-level government task-force, up to 145,000 students on working visas are being underpaid billions of dollars in wages by Australian employers. Overseas students most at risk of being exploited by Australian bosses, adds Fels are those attending vocational courses in the TAFE sector.

Extreme examples of overseas student exploitation include the high-profile 7-Eleven case, where 4000 workers were unpaid $160 million in wages. It’s understood that while 7-Eleven franchise workers may have been paid the right amount, they were ‘strongly encouraged’ to hand a certain portion of their pay back over the counter in cash.

As in the 7-Eleven case, while most of overseas students know they’re being under paid, Fels suspects that they don’t complain in fear of being sacked. While one solution being proposed by Fels’ taskforce is a Vulnerable Workers Act – with increased penalties for employers – there are also moves afoot to simply close the doors to many overseas students.

While Labor has floated the idea of implementing a cap on overseas student numbers, tertiary education providers are concerned that such a move would only make alternative overseas study destinations, like Canada and NZ look increasingly more attractive.

International student enrolments in Australia soared by almost 13 percent in the first two months of 2018, with the university intake rising to 303,000, while the number in vocational training, English language training and schools rose to 131,000, 60,000 and 21,000 respectively.

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