The proposal, submitted by Sydney-based Redfern Legal Centre, seeks to amend section 499 of the Migration Act to prevent the automatic cancellation of a student’s visa when they have breached the terms as well as combat employee exploitation.
“In our experience, international students frequently have a visa issue associated with their legal problem, and fears about their visa status can prevent these students from seeking advice or asserting their rights,” said Sean Stimson, RLC international student solicitor.
“Employers have hid behind the fact that international students are not going to pursue their employer because they are in breach of their visa conditions”
Under current conditions in Australia, international students can work up to 40 hours per fortnight.
But, Stimson said this condition has led to unscrupulous employers intentionally targeting students, coercing them to work in excess of their entitled hours, and then using the threat of deportation to force them into substandard employment conditions.
According to RLC, which provides free legal assistance to the community, international students are particularly vulnerable in areas including housing, employment, consumer scams and issues with their education providers.
“Students we hear from often describe working in ‘slave like’ conditions, receiving pay that is significantly below industry awards,” said Stimson. “This creates a vicious cycle, forcing students to work additional hours to survive. They are then essentially trapped by their employer, who often make threats of deportation if they speak out.”
The proposed changes would also allow international students to legally pursue employers to recover wages and entitlements, and if passed, would put employers “on notice for the first time”.
“Employers have hid behind the fact that international students are not going to pursue their employer because they are in breach of their visa conditions,” Stimson commented. “It exposes the employer to all of the breaches they have undertaken by the exploitation.”
Stimson said the timeframe for review and implementation of the amendment is uncertain, but the proposal has so far been favourably received.
Australia has had several incidents of international student exploitation, including a recent highly-publicised exposé by SBS on rampant exploitation of Vietnamese students.