RLC in the Media: International students are trapped in exploitation

On the structural inequalities international students face in the workforce and the dangers of reporting workplace exploitation.

Catherine Ku reports for Honi Soit

The 7-Eleven wage scandal in 2015 revealed the systemic vulnerability of migrants and international students to exploitation in Australian workplaces.

As one example among many, international student Pranay Alawa was underpaid more than $30,000 by a franchise in Brisbane. After confronting his employer about his owed wages, the franchise’s lawyer sent him a letter threatening to report him to immigration for working more hours than his visa allowed.

For those on student visas, visa condition 8105 mandates that international students are only allowed to work up to 40 hours per fortnight while their course is in session.

Facing costly international student fees and living expense, many students have no other option but to accept employers’ offers to work more hours, but at below minimum wage – usually cash-in-hand.

Rather than occurring at big companies like 7-eleven, the majority of this exploitation takes places in small businesses, especially in the retail and hospitality industries.

For students who have undertaken the daunting journey of moving to an unfamiliar country, and who often bear the emotional burden of fulfilling the hopes of their families back home, visa cancellation is a high risk. And while a student risks losing their dreams, an employer most likely faces fines.

At worst, the Redfern Legal Centre notes incidents where employers have gotten away without consequence because students were deported before their claim was finished. When students request their legal wages, employers utilise the threat of visa cancellation or deportation to silence them, as in Alawala’s case. Currently, the law gives them backing.

Currently, the blanket policy of exposing all breaches to visa cancellation in section 116(1)(b) of the Migration Act, regardless of severity, nature or circumstance, increases students’ fear about reporting employers.

The question of whether or not to remove the 40 hour working limit is another debate in itself – with the government relaxing the work limit from March to May 2020 following an economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the full article here (Honi Soit, 17 May 2020)