The endless exploitation of international students

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,

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.

Leith van Onselen
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    • Yep, growth at all costs canard is getting a bit tiresome.

      How about the pollies come clean on the real reason they’re so desperate for ‘growth’: the existing debt-berg is so large that if we don’t get ‘growf’ the system will effectively disintegrate and the powers-that-be can’t have that –> their wealth depends on the status quo continuing. But it gets worse, because there are all the unfunded liabilities run up by the public sector like, umm, pension commitments to workers, subsidised healthcare and state pension. These commitments are effectively debts that haven’t yet come due but need to be paid in perpetuity – and for that you’re going to need an ever-increasing cohort of taxpayers. No wonder, ‘Big Australia’. Officially – wallow in the cultural enrichment. Unofficially – blind panic.

      • Jumping jack flash

        All run by debt attached to houses and the dependence on the endless debt growth so the interest bill will not suck the economy inside out.

        It’s a global problem.

        Central bankers must be literally [email protected] themselves with worry about how they’re going to keep this economic abomination going.

        We have a global economy paradigm equivalent to using one credit card to repay another, and then getting steadily bigger credit cards each time. But seriously it was always going to come to that.

        • Yep, it’s a mess of mind-bending proportions but I’m on the fence as to whether central bankers know the full score or whether they believe their own drivel. One thing’s for sure is that the longer they drag this out the greater the damage will be when this blows.

  1. This Mayfair advertising stream coming through on your site is a worry.
    Where is ASIC on this dubious organisation?
    My bet is that the organisation will soon become front-page news for all the reasons we would not want.
    Can MB stop this flow? By association, it may end up as a bad advertiser to be next to.

      • The ad blocker is not an issue.
        This crowd is spending mega-back with full-page advertising in major papers, now offering 5.45% interest. What could go wrong?

    • Ah, you get it too. Surely you’re impressed by the aspirational looking people in the ad, dripping in success.

  2. Oh dear, these poor ‘exploited’ foreign students..

    “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”

    Yep. 712,000 of them. (03/2019).
    615,000 primary visa holders & 59,000 secondary visa ‘partners’ plus 38,000 DFAT, special & scholarship.
    Up 8% year to year.
    So it doesn’t seem to be an issue for them.
    Coz they are lined up in their tens of millions in the slums & rural areas of Asia & India to pay the bribes, the fake doc, get the fake health check – to get into Australia to also ‘be exploited’.

    75% are working illegally in visa breach.
    (Sydney Uni & UTS study)
    So that is 534,000 Australia jobs they are stealing.
    That costs us $9.5 billion in Centrelink, more than the foreign student fees they paid (& not an export , those fees as a visa alibi are paid from the money they earned here illegally)

    “Students in share housing most frequently encountered illegal or poor living conditions (57% experienced these conditions in their first share house alone)”

    Go build a proper migrant guestworker housing encampment in outer Sydney then.
    Rather than let these migrant guestworkers destroy Australia lower end residential housing.
    The foreign student migrant guestworkers now occupy some 120,000 (at a generous ratio of ONLY 6 per dwelling, twice the Australian average and illegally occupancy in most small units)..

    Where do the MB readers think they all live?

    They live in ‘private shared accommodation’ / 98% of them & over 90% in Sydney or Melbourne (ABS).
    That’s ABS code for a dirty old very small 2 bed walkup unit in Burwoo with 8 Chinese in it.
    Or a tiny little fibro humpy in Granville with 9 Bangla inside in bunks & 4 in the garage in cots.
    Paying $160 each a week cash to the invariably foreign landlord PR proxy who was set up as the mule to wash the dirty criminal money into the property for the foreign criminal syndicate to then run their migrant housing cash in hand slum share racket..

    $160 a week out here in the west is standard for the ‘bunk, bag of rice, toilet roll & wifi deal’.
    The city is up to $220 week in a shared room.

    The criminal syndicate will pull $70,000 a year cash / no tax on the little 2 bed cage housing unit in Burwoo or old fibro shack in Granville.
    And the proxy will claim negative gearing..

    We have vast migrant only slums out west that stretch to the horizon.
    It’s all on display.

  3. George Peterson


    Its us that is being taken for a ride particularly young local kids

    There should be NO work rights or other bs so my son can get a job and not have to compete with desperate third worlders

    I also shouldnt have to see my roads clogged with third worlders on scooters doing uber eats or some rude foreigner barge into a restaurant with large swinging backpack to shove their phone into the face of the cashier..just go home

    • The90kwbeastMEMBER

      I see what you’re saying but it’s a very common practice for international students to earn a side income, because look at how expensive Australia is. Could you afford to send your children overseas and pay for everything? If so, good for you but for the majority they can’t.

      Much like the immigration discussion more generally, it is part of being in the global community that we host international students and if they want to turn into young, skilled members of the workforce that can benefit Australias future, great.

      The bigger issue to me is the overall quantity coming here, it is not a simple binary of none or all. This excessive quantity here currently is a direct result of OUR universities in cahoots with OUR government opening the door to half of Asia to study to increase revenues because our government cut Uni funding.

      The answer is for the government to fund our own bloody unis properly, like they used to 20-30 years ago.

      • John Howards Bowling Coach

        The point is not that it is ‘normal’ for them to be able to work to support themselves. To that I say, so what, if you cannot afford to support yourself and fund your studies you don’t get to come here. The false commentary that they add to the overall economy doesn’t hold water when you understand that they would still be spending here if there were not earning here. It’s not our responsibility as good global citizen to host anyone here for any reason, that is just what the lefties on the ABC/SBS want to tell us. The reality is that if the Government want to keep up the lie that international student are an export income source they cannot earn here, they have to bring income to the nation not take income from here to support themselves here and potentially take or send that income home.

      • “Could you afford to send your children overseas and pay for everything?”

        False question. I did my Masters in the USA. Ivy League school. Student visa with NO work rights. Borrowed all my living expenses + tuition expenses from Citibank – arranged by the University, they had some risk sharing on the loan so only pick students they think are worth it.

        I got an H1B post graduation and worked for a few years in the US and paid off my student loans fully before returning to Australia. Guess what – none of my education was an export for the USA. But it was valuable for both the university (diverse student body) and for long term relations as I have a very positive view of the US from my time there.

        We should take international students in Australia but under the same conditions. They pay full freight, no work rights during studies, and eventually they go home with a positive view of our place.

        • The90kwbeastMEMBER

          Right. So in your example you took a grad job from a fellow deserving American, as well as a loan from Citi that could have gone to an American that your repaid with wages from the job you got over an American. And to top it all off, you left the US afterwards anyway, never staying in America to pay for a career of PAYG taxes. See the irony in your position?

          The issue isn’t that international undergrads are working, it’s the volume of them that are here and working, which is far too many. What is wrong with them having a temporary job in Australia to support them, learning more about the culture and way of life (and having to engage with the wider community)? How is it literally any different to your own life other than you were post grad and those here are undergrad?

          • Ultimately it boils down to whether you think foreign study is an opportunity to export a service (and maybe citizenship), or our culture.

      • Very well put buddy. The numbers are just astounding. This high level of Immigration be it student/temp/permanent visa, is just not good for the country. A way lower level of immigration would be much better.
        In fact, basing the immigration on economic condition and if possible infrastructure condition of the country with a cap at lower level is much better. Example, Keep the standard permanent immigration to say 70-80 K/Year. If the economy of the country does well then increase it accordingly up to a Max of 120K-125K/Year. If the economy of the country is not doing well(as it is now) then reduce it to Just 25K /Year or even freeze it until it picks up again. Do something similar to Temp Visa/Student Visa (the standard immigration numbers should be kept very low for these any ways, not at the astounding numbers that they are now.)

  4. Judging by the mood of the last couple of posts we can gauge a sense of the publics view on excessive migration.

    There are very few corners of resistance which still chant “racist” to anyone who dares question it – but they are powerful and resistant.

    The mood is what matters. And it is conclusive. The consumer recession from here on out will only get vastly worse – and with it that mood.

    This is Australia, not Denmark, Brussles or New Zealand, when things go pear shaped the locals will riot. And by pear shaped I mean – severe housing price correction.

  5. If you voluntarily subject yourself to something then I don’t call it exploitation. I call it stupidity.

    • I think you’re the front-runner for the Friday night chicken dinner. You simply cannot blame these people for coming and having a go. The people to blame are the ones who are facilitating this rort — it’s not a badly executed plan by Canberra. It’s 100% deliberate.

  6. Jumping jack flash

    Not just international student, although they are the golden egg-laying goose, but just students in general.

    I went to a fast food restaurant last night and it was run by kids with one “adult” supervisor.

    I’m honestly surprised they can do this, isn’t there a standard of 1 adult for every 4 kids or something? Or is that daycare I’m thinking of? In any case it seemed terribly undersupervised.

    Well the place was a madhouse. Waited 30 minutes for them to stuff up my order.

    All so the owners can steal the wage difference compared to employing competent people, and then leverage it to grow their debt pile so they can afford to buy the things that make them “successful”. Things that wages alone can no longer afford with a lifetime of savings.

  7. John Howards Bowling Coach

    Who cares if they are exploited? If they are infact supposed to be bringing income to our nation we are actually in the business of exploiting them. They should have no work rights as others have said. If they are here to fund our universities they need to bring ALL of the required funding with them, not earn it here.

      • billygoatMEMBER

        Ha Ha RB you must be 21. Plenty of Aussie girls and boys to play with ur Willy long before onslaught of foreign students.
        You just had to travel more than few kms from home for quickie. In Kalgoorlie WA you could get a takeaway (to your home) circa 1990:))