The systemic exploitation of international students is endemic across the Australian economy.
For years we have read countless reports of wage theft from international students, particularly from migrants employers from the same nationality.
For example, the 2016 Senate Committee report, entitled A National Disgrace: The Exploitation of Temporary Work Visa Holders, claimed international students “were consistently reported to suffer widespread exploitation in the Australian workforce”, and that “a large portion of the hours that international students worked was undocumented (and unpaid)”.
Last year’s book, entitled The Wage Crisis in Australia also noted that international students were vulnerable to exploitation because they “see themselves as involved in a project of ‘staggered’ or ‘multi-step’ migration”. Their analysis claimed around two-thirds of international students were paid below the minimum wage, with one-quarter earning $12/hour or less and 43% of students earning $15/hour or less.
Whereas the 2019 Report of the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce found that around one-quarter of international students were paid around half the legal minimum wage, with exploitation of international students deemed “endemic”.
In July, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) released its strategic review into international education, which warned that international students are especially vulnerable to “being misinformed, misled and, in the worst circumstances, open to exploitation” by dodgy and unregulated education agents, who accounted for around three-quarters of international student enrolments in 2017.
Now, a new study of 5,000 international students has been released by academics from the University of New South Wales and the University of Technology Sydney, which reveals that more than half of international students in share houses are living in rental squalor and frequently abused by “exploitative” landlords:
Overcrowding, unsafe accommodation and intimidation are just some of the poor conditions frequently faced by students in share housing…
Students in share housing most frequently encountered illegal or poor living conditions (57% experienced these conditions in their first share house alone). These include:
Exploitation and poor housing were not restricted to students in English language or vocational colleges – most problems were experienced by similar proportions of university students.
UNSW Sydney’s Bassina Farbenblum says they expected to find that students would be more vulnerable to scams and exploitation when they organised share housing online from their home country rather than in Australia:
“In fact, we found that deception and poor housing conditions were just as common for international students who organised their housing here. Exploitation is thriving unchecked in the wild west of the share house market, and international students can’t avoid it simply by organising housing after they arrive in Australia.”
Problems were most commonly experienced among respondents who organised their share house through social media (e.g. Facebook, WeChat) or a peer-to-peer sharing website (e.g. Gumtree, Flatmates.com.au).
UTS Law’s Dr Laurie Berg says half of international students used one of these platforms to organise their share house and reported the highest rates of deception, overcharging, demands for money upfront and poor living conditions.
The exploitation of international students is clearly systemic across the Australian economy.
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