“Just imagine what your future could hold after studying in Australia. It’s unlimited, isn’t it?”
So says the Win Your Future competition launched recently by trade and investment minister Andrew Robb, where prospective students send a virtual postcard explaining how an Australian education will help them achieve their future ambitions.
The students vying for a slice of the lucrative prize of free education, flights and accommodation for the year certainly think so. Taimoor from Pakistan writes that “the Study Environment of Australia is very Attractive and Friendly for International Students.” Sharmeen from the Philippines writes: “I always dream of studying in Australia and gain world class education and opportunities.”
While each of the 260,000 international students granted a student visa in the last financial year all hope for a friendly study environment and world-class opportunities, sadly it’s not always the case.
Keen to secure a place to live before they arrive, international students can be easy targets for dodgy landlords. A young female student was evicted from her CBD unit at 11pm as she was unable to pay an on-the-spot rent increase. Another student was told a new flat-mate would be moving in, but with no spare beds, she was told it was her bed the new house-mate would be sleeping in.
International students are also vulnerable to exploitation at work. We see students being encouraged to work more hours than their visa allows in exchange for working less hours another week, say during the exam period. When the student stops being paid and asks for their wages, the employer threatens to report them to the immigration department for working those extra hours, jeopardising their entire visa.
These students are often left without any effective legal remedies. In share-housing matters, they can fall between the cracks of the various Acts. In employment matters, it can be difficult to reclaim unpaid wages. Even when the law does offer a meaningful remedy, hearing dates can occur long after the student has returned home.
Like Taimoor and Sharmeen, we know our universities are world class. It’s time we made sure that the places international students live and work are world class too.
Kate Gauld, International Student Solicitor, Redfern Legal Centre. Redfern Legal Centre provides free legal advice, legal services and education to disadvantaged people in New South Wales; in particular to residents of inner Sydney and to the groups who advocate for them.