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Federal review of international student working hours prompts concern

An upcoming review of overseas students’ working hours raises the possibility of changes being reversed and risks uncertainty for those in precarious working conditions.

Photo: The University of Sydney

Concerns have been raised by civil organisations over an impending Federal Government review of the working hours limit for international students. 

In February, the Federal Government relaxed international student working hours requirements, meaning that students are no longer bound to the previous limit of 40 hours per fortnight . The change was made in response to “workforce shortages” plaguing Australia following two years of strict border control measures. 

The policy is set for review in April 2022.

In a statement, Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) expressed significant concerns that the impending review risks exposing international students currently working more than 40 hours per fortnight to financial uncertainty. 

“Many international students and migrant workers are forced into breaching visa conditions by working longer hours than they are legally allowed to survive,” the statement said.

The RLC is also calling for reforms targeting employers who fail to ensure a safe working environment, and measures to enable disclosures by students who fall into precarious situations.   

“Criminal sanctions for employers exploiting migrants and offering below award pay rates are urgently needed. However, without adequate safeguards to support visa holders to come forward, such protections will be rendered ineffective.” 

Civil organisations such as the Migrant Justice Institute have raised alarms in recent years over the pressures facing overseas students who are pushed into illegal working conditions by employers. 

For instance, a 2016 report, International Student and Wage Theft in Australia, by UTS Associate Professor Laurie Berg and UNSW Associate Professor Bassina Farbenblum, found that international students often do not report due to fears of loss of employment or pressures surrounding their immigration status. 

“They often suffer in silence because of visa concerns or fear of job loss. Our findings confirm that many who complained were in fact sacked,” Berg and Farbenblum noted.

“Their visa concerns are also valid – there’s nothing to stop the labour regulator sharing information with immigration authorities if a student has worked more hours than their visa allows.”  

In a statement, SRC President Lauren Lancaster said: “The SRC notes with concern the review by the Federal Government and recognises this may place those already working long hours to be placed at further risk.”

“This is another symptom of the structural vulnerability of international students in Australia that perpetuates exploitation, to which we are unequivocally opposed.”