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Work restrictions around student visas put young girls at risk

As from 1 July 2023, work restrictions for student visa holders will be re-introduced and capped at 48 hours per fortnight after restrictions were relaxed throughout the pandemic, and completely removed in January 2022 when student visa holders were allowed to work unrestricted hours to address workforce shortages. Although the government has increased the cap from 40 hours a fortnight to 48 hours, it’s still so out of touch with the reality and the financial challenges that these students face while in Australia.

40.5% of international students are from China and India follows closely behind with 16.1% of all international student enrolments. 49% of all international enrolments in Australia are female. It is a fact that female international students face unique challenges when studying and living away from home and having work restrictions only exacerbate these challenges.

Working only 48 hours a fortnight is simply not enough to meet daily expenses and as international students move to Australia with no local work experience, they are stuck with the low paying jobs. As such they often find themselves with no other choice but to work illegally for more than the restricted hours in order to make ends meet. This situation alone puts young girls in precarious and dangerous situations.

At Veera Brave Girl we hear of so many stories of international female students being exploited and abused by their employers and feeling like they have no power to report in fear of being deported. Due to financial constraints most of these young girls not only stay in those jobs but also end up normalising the abuse, which they then carry throughout their lives, with their lifelong partners.

Education delivered over $29 billion to the economy in 2022, with international students in Australia contributing $25.5 billion and students studying online adding a further $3.5 billion. It’s all well and good however the government is failing those international students, especially the young girls by not exercising a proper duty of care. 

There is an urgent need to build a robust framework that ensures the well-being and safety of international students. This should be two-fold. 

Firstly, I recommend regular welfare checks for vulnerable migrants - those arriving on spouse visas or student visas. This framework can be similar to the mother and newborn health checks which are conducted regularly to ensure the well being of both and offer support where needed. As soon as international students land in Australia, they should be provided with all the vital resources they need, translated in many different languages to ensure they know how to navigate the health and legal systems, they become familiar with what their rights are, contraceptive methods, and the different hotlines they can call in case of emergencies. It should be primarily the government’s responsibility to ensure international students have easy access to the information they require to live safely in Australia during their studies.

Secondly, there also needs to be an overhaul of the restrictions on students visas. Going back to pandemic days where international students could work unlimited hours will result in significantly less abuse and exploitation. Better working pay rates for international students and opportunities to upskill will ensure students can work and live a decent life while in Australia without having to work illegally