Foreign students in Australia being exploited for profit: Report
By Roger Maynard, Australia Correspondent
SYDNEY: International students in Australia are often given misleading information by overseas recruitment companies and frequently exploited in the workplace, a new report has claimed.
The report, which looked into the way the international student community is treated in Australia, has raised concerns about the lack of affordable accommodation and underpayment by employers, among other things.
The study, by The Overseas Student Experience Taskforce, focused on the state of Victoria and was instigated in September in the wake of media and word-of-mouth criticism about local conditions.
International education is Victoria's biggest service export, and as many as 133,000 foreign post-secondary, vocational and higher education students contributed an estimated A$3.9 billion (S$3.8 billion) to the state's economy last year.
Highlighting what it considered to be one of the central issues facing these students, the taskforce report said many of them fall victim to Australia's ban on foreign students working more than 20 hours a week.
Most work beyond the stipulated hours and live in constant fear of being reported to the authorities.
'The consequence is often that overseas students are at risk of workplace exploitation as they fear they will be reported to the immigration authorities and then deported,' the report said.
An example of workplace discrimination it mentioned was the case where, for the same job, an Australian student was paid A$14 an hour and an overseas student A$9.
According to the Union for Fast Food and Retail Workers, this was only the tip of the iceberg.
In a submission to the taskforce, the union revealed the case of a Chinese student who worked for 20 days on a trial basis in a 7-Eleven franchise and alleged that the owner manipulated the books to misrepresent the number of hours worked for pay received.
'These kinds of horror stories should not, by now, be news to government,' the union said.
'The 20-hour work restriction, coupled with the lack of avenues for international students to come forward to complain about breaches of workplace rights, has created a thriving black market in which gross underpayment of wages, fraud by employers, bullying and intimidation of international student workers thrives,' it added in its submission.
In response, the taskforce recommended that students who performed well academically should be permitted to work for more than 20 hours a week.
It also recommended that education institutions be required to provide access to affordable and appropriate housing for overseas student in their first six to 12 months in Victoria.
On the question of offshore recruitment agencies providing misleading information, like favourable long-term visa outcomes, the inquiry urged the authorities to set up a register of education agents.
Australia's Immigration Minister has already pledged to widen legislative powers to tackle the problem.
While the taskforce's brief did not look at the standard of teaching in Victoria, the report does recommend 'an effective and responsive quality-control process...recognising that Victoria's reputation for quality is hard won and can be easily tarnished'.
The study comes hot on the heels of last week's federal Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education, which claimed that foreign students were all too often regarded as cash cows used to bolster budgets for domestic students and research.