International students strain under work restrictions
Work restrictions introduced by the federal government in July that limit international students to 48 hours per fortnight are having wide-ranging effects, with some students feeling the economic pinch and others being forced to leave the country entirely.
Mary Duritan, 27, studies cookery and lives on Swanston St. She considers herself “one of the few lucky ones”.
When the work restrictions were introduced, Mary’s employers continued to give her 24 hours a week, maximising payslips by rostering her on nights and weekends for higher hourly wages. Because of this, Mary says “so far” she hasn’t noticed the drastic day-to-day impacts felt by some of her classmates. However, without the safety-net of being able to work more hours Mary is concerned about the future.
“I am nervous as to when I renew the lease in the apartment, and, of course, that comes with a rent raise. What I’m earning with the restrictions is exact for what I am paying now for rent and tuition,” Mary told CBD News.
“If there was a $100 or $200 raise on rent or cost of living expenses I really don’t know how I would pay for everything. The 24 hours [of work per week] support me just enough to get by. So, if the restaurant closes down for a few days, or if there’s a holiday and they don’t want to open on that day, then immediately I’ll have a hard time paying the tuition for that month.”
Mary also describes “heartless” situations where her friends and classmates have had their hours “slashed”.
Matt Joven, 27, also studied cookery. After arriving in Australia in October last year, Matt found work in the kitchens at Yarra Botanica and Crown Casino. With talk of work restrictions being put in place, Matt says his hours began dwindling from March as employers began to question the long-term reliability of keeping international student staff.
From February to July, Matt’s hours were more than halved, falling from 36 to 38 hours per week to just 16. During mid-August, Matt was forced to return to the Philippines, borrowing money for his flight home, in considerable debt.
“I pulled out of my student visa because I couldn’t handle it,” Matt told CBD News from the Philippines. “I haven’t paid school [fees] in around four or five months. I had to pay my rent first, because otherwise I’d have nowhere to live.”
When I was working good hours, I had a social life. I was eating in restaurants I never thought I’d be eating at. But when [the restrictions] started, it was instant noodles, all day every day. A lot of people are suffering from it. I know classmates that are going crazy, saying, ‘how will I pay my rent next week?’ I’m just eating leftovers for the past week, you know, stuff like that.
Andrew Copolov is a PhD student at Monash University and initiated the Gig Worker’s Hub in the Melbourne CBD. He has noticed the strain and confusion the working restrictions have caused delivery drivers in the city.
He said that according to the Transport Workers’ Union, “about 90 per cent of people doing delivery work are migrants, the vast majority of whom are international students”.
“Something people who I’ve met through The Hub have asked me is how exactly are these laws being measured [for delivery drivers and gig workers]? The trouble with gig work is it’s not quite the same as other forms of employment when you’re either working or not working,” Mr Copolov said.
“So much of the time is really spent waiting around for another job. So, there’s a real lack of clarity for people about whether it is time online, or is it time actually doing deliveries?”
A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs told CBD News that it considered 48 hours of work a fortnight to be an “approproate balance between work and study”, recommending that if student visa holders were experiencing difficulty, they should contact their education provider in the first instance.
“During the pandemic, unlimited work rights for international students supported the local economy during extraordinary circumstances. With temporary migrant numbers now returning to usual pre-COVID levels, it is time to normalise student visa settings and ensure that the primary focus for students is to obtain a quality Australian education,” the spokesperson said. •