How could we solve this problem——Overseas Students Work in Australia Being Exploited

It is not uncommon for overseas students to be treated unfairly while working in Australia. More importantly, these phenomena may never be solved.The author had interviewed several participants, to see the reasons behind them.

As a diverse cultural background country, Australia attracts lots of people travel, trade, migration, and of course, study. International students are a very large group in Australia. According to the department of education and training international student monthly summary, up to March, there are 578,760 international students in Australia.







The screen-cut of International student monthly summary

This report also shows that most of the overseas students are from developing countries.

Some of these students need to work in this developed country to pay high living costs. Australia’s current visa policy allows international students to work in here. But the reality is usually very different from the policy. Many media had already reported the truth hidden behind huge commercial interests, such as the Junkee report the Sumo Salad or the Guardian news story.


Read More: Fair Work Ombudsman 16-17 Annual Report


In fact, the phenomenon of exploitation of overseas students is even more serious.

An investigation from the Sydney Morning Herald reports that according to the Sydney University research, the international students are usually paying below the minimum wage.

The screen-cut from the Sydney Morning Herald

But have we ever wondered why this phenomenon still exists and why we cannot solve them? This phenomenon is difficult to resolve, not only the government’s problems but also some very important reasons hidden behind these overseas students…

The author interviewed 7 participants, most of them are from the largest overseas students export country, China, and some from Italy and India, to see why they felt that this phenomenon is hard to be solved.

photo of Samay Sabharwal, by Xutong Ma, all rights reserved

Awareness Problem

One of the most important reasons that we cannot solve this problem is the awareness issue. Most of the overseas students don’t know the exact standard of legal wage. When I ask the question, ‘Do you know the legal standard of the minimum wage in Australia’

One of the interviewee Felson, who had been working in Nanhai Media company for 3 years, answered, “Maybe 17 nearly 20”.

Sabrina Nava, an overseas student now working in hospitality answered, “I think it’s the 17? the limit?”

Yan Chen, an international student from the University of Sydney, currently working as a waiter. He said, ‘I think, what I have been told about is like $20?’

Yihan Shi, University of Sydney Student, doing a part-time job in a Chinese Restaurant, now get $11 per hour. She said, “Not sure. I am not sure about this.”

Tracy, who is major in social work got unpaid when she was a waitress, said: “the international students they just not aware, that they are getting exploited, and they are not aware that you know they can get help”.

As it turns out, these foreigners who are currently working here are not aware of the country’s policy, whether they have just arrived in Australia for a year or have been there for more than three years.

This consciousness issue is also reflected in their ignorance, fear, and numbness of fighting for their own rights.

Most people do not know how to protect their rights. As the statistic form the department of education show, most of the international students have come from China and India. This may be due to the fact that their home countries do not have adequate social rights organizations so that they do not have the consciousness to actively protect their own rights.

Samay Sabharwal who is an international student officer from the Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association, said that, “because it’s usually mainly the international students, not so much on the domestic, because the domestic students are much more aware and inform of their rights, what can be done, what cannot be done”.

At the same time, they are also afraid of “getting trouble” in an unfamiliar country.  “Usually, you know a new place, you are not as confident as you would be in your home country,” Sam said, “you are a little scared, you don’t know what’s gonna happened, you don’t know if you can fight the system and employer”. Some students may be afraid to lose their jobs even if they know it is illegal and they are being exploited.

More because they think they are not the “only one”.

“I know the Chinese restaurant always pay the lower salary to the waiters,“ Yihan Shi said, “Other Chinese restaurant they also pay the lower salary to students, not just for the restaurant I did the part-time job in. Like almost all restaurant they all pay the lower salary to students”.

In addition, some international students believe that being a waiter or cashier in a restaurant is a “New experience”. They emphasize that the students’ main task is to study, work is just an experience. Yan said he quite enjoys the friendly working environment, therefore, he doesn’t want to change this current situation, even though he got emolument at $11 per hour. “I think it’s quite a new experience, to work as a waiter. Because I have never tried before. It’s not all about the money”.

How could we solve this problem if students are unaware that they are being exploited or seeking help and expose more exploitations actively. Just like Sam said, “it’s a big country. There are always people who get exploited or claim on with happens. Its impossible to check every business every day”.

These low-tech jobs will never be short of labor

If there is never a shortage of labor, then how to increase salaries? “the boss has a lot of labors. I mean, if you don’t do that, someone can replace you,” said by Felson.

Yian has the same opinion, “(the boss) they don’t lack students, they can find waiters, they can find these cheap labour anytime anywhere, so they don’t care about them like they don’t need to find labour, because they have too many choices. That’s why maybe the salary is too low”.

Language problem could be another big consideration. Just like the report from the Department of Education shows, most of these overseas students come from China, India, and Nepal where the public language is usually not English. “Students have not enough English communication skills,” Felson said.

In addition, even if you have good English communication skills, your employer may not think so. Samay said: “employers tend to hire local students because they are the locals, they know the local culture, it’s easy for them to interact with the customers and which is a form of racial discrimination again that somewhat the students face through and we get a lot of cases”.

There are many other objective factors. Overseas students are not steady enough, they cannot continue to work during long holidays or at the final exam period.

Meanwhile, for some students with one year of schooling and actually stay for only 8 to 10 months. Finding a job that does not pay taxes, pay by cash once a week, and get started quickly is the least costly. They don’t have to spend time and money learning how to make coffee and cocktails and get a license.

So, how could we solve this situation?

Do you know the legal standard of minimum wage in Australia?

Do you know the longest working hours per week for students work in Australian?
0 votes · 0 answers

Read More:

Read Tracy’s unpaid story and more background materials here

Followed Instagram: underpaid_overseasstudents

Xutong Ma
About Xutong Ma 4 Articles
Hi, I am a Chinese media student. I am studying at the Sydney Uni and my major is Master of Digital Communication and Culture. I used to be a reporter, host and voice actor in China. If you are interested in me, please find me via email: or Instagram: kkkrystal.s

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