Overseas Students Exploited

Overseas students exploited

David Rood
The Age
December 22, 2008

INTERNATIONAL students in Victoria are regularly underpaid, face other exploitation in the workplace and are increasingly given misleading information by offshore student recruiters, a State Government inquiry has found.

– Students 'underpaid, exploited'
– Lack of housing threatens market
– 'Widespread flaws' in treatment

The report into the welfare of foreign students, to be released today, reveals widespread flaws in the treatment of students and warns a lack of accommodation threatens the growth of the lucrative market.

The Overseas Student Experience Taskforce found that a significant number of international students were working more than the 20 hours a week allowed under their student visa requirements.

“The consequence is often that the overseas students are at risk of workplace exploitation as they fear they will be reported to the immigration authorities and then deported,” the inquiry stated.

The report recommended those who are performing well academically be allowed to work for more than 20 hours.

One example given by the taskforce was of an Australian student and an overseas student who were paid $14 and $9 an hour respectively for doing the same work at the same place.

The taskforce was formed in September in response to reports particularly in The Age of a scarcity of affordable rental housing, social segregation, physical attacks, rogue education institutions and workplace discrimination.

International education is the state's biggest service export, with 133,000 foreign post-secondary, vocational and higher education students contributing an estimated $3.9 billion to the Victorian economy in 2007.

The inquiry found an increasing number of incidents where education agents or offshore recruiters of students provided misleading information.

In response, it recommends a register of education agents.

And while the taskforce was explicitly not asked to examine the quality of education given to students, tellingly it recommended a rapid audit of high-risk providers to guarantee the quality of courses.

“An effective and responsive quality-control process is therefore required, recognising that Victoria's reputation for quality is hard won and can be easily tarnished,” the report stated.

Mark Choo from the National Liaison Committee for International Students said the key problems faced by international students were workplace discrimination and the rental housing crisis.

He said there have been many examples of students living in overcrowded and inadequate accommodation.

“There are international students working beyond the 20-hour limit and they then live in fear,” Mr Choo said. “Some employers then use this to exploit international students.”

Skills and Workforce Participation Minister Jacinta Allan said most students studying in Victoria had a rewarding and positive experience and addressing the issues raised by the taskforce would enhance that experience.

The report also recommended education institutions be required to provide access to affordable and appropriate housing for overseas student in their first six to 12 months in Victoria.

The taskforce considered the issues of accommodation, student welfare and safety, employment, social inclusion, and the quality of information provided to students.

Its recommendations will help shape the Brumby Government's International Education Strategy, due in March.