Australia’s international student slave trade

In recent years, Nepal has emerged as Australia’s third largest source market for international students.

As shown in the next chart, the number of Nepalese students enrolled across Australian international education institutions ballooned from just under 12,000 in 2013 to 62,000 currently:

Over the same time period, ‘exports’ from Nepalese international students – comprising both fees paid and living expenses – skyrocketed from around $500,000 in 2013 to $2.6 billion in 2019:

This explosive growth in Nepalese students has led to accusations of exploitation by the education industry, with experts demanding urgent action from the federal government to close the rort down:

The number of education agents – or recruiters – operating in Nepal has leapt from a few hundred to more than 3000, according to a federal education department spokesman…

Unlike the Chinese and Indians, who mostly enrol in university degrees, about half the Nepalese students enrolled in vocational education and training or English language courses.

The trend has alarmed higher education experts, who warn it is unlikely the students can genuinely afford to study in Australia, and are likely involved in exploitative work to pay for their tuition.

Andrew Norton, professor of higher education policy at the Australian National University, said the Nepalese influx should be “red-flagged” by the Department of Home Affairs.

“Nepal is a country with a not-very-large population and it is very poor,” he said. “You have these basic questions of how so many people can afford to come to Australia and afford education here”…

Professor Norton said Nepalese international students had “an extremely high number” of secondary applicants on their visas, “suggesting to me that maybe they’re bringing in their spouses to work”…

Salvatore Babones, associate professor at the University of Sydney, was even more critical, accusing universities and the government of presiding over the “abuse” of poor families.

World Bank figures show Nepal’s gross domestic product per capita is about $US1000 – less than a 50th of Australia’s and half of India’s. “And yet it has this enormous contingent of students in Australia,” said Associate Professor Babones.

“This should be a red flag for everybody that they’re coming to Australia on loan-shark money, working their hearts out while they’re here in both legal and illegal employment so they can send money back to their families.

“The picture is so damning. I think the universities and the government should exercise more of a duty of care to poor people in a developing country rather than just take their money because it’s easy money. For Nepal, it’s just abusive.”

We’ve been here before. Mid last year, Inside Story’s Tim Colebatch warned on the torrent of low quality Nepalese students inundating Australia’s educational institutions:

…one source stands out: the little Himalayan country of Nepal, just thirty million people, living in one of Asia’s poorest countries.

In 2017–18, one in every 1500 inhabitants of Nepal emigrated to Australia. In an era of strict immigration controls, that is an astonishing number for two countries so far apart, with no common language, heritage or ethnicity.

Over the five years to mid 2018, one in every 500 Nepalis emigrated to Australia — and that’s in net terms, after deducting those who returned. In 2017–18, little Nepal became Australia’s third largest source of migrants after India and China…

Deregulation has allowed universities to selectively lower their standards to bring in more fee-paying foreign students, even when they fail to meet the thresholds for English language skills or academic achievement…

This is not the first time immigration from Nepal has surged. A decade ago, we saw a scam with training visas, in which “students” from India and Nepal came for training courses in Australia, then quickly vanished into the workforce. The scam saw net immigration set record levels in 2008–09, before then immigration minister Chris Evans shut it down. But most of those who came stayed on here.

At the current pace of immigration, Australia will soon have more residents born in Nepal than in Greece.

The explosive growth in international student numbers has already destroyed teaching standards, has inundated Australia’s labour market with cheap exploitative labour, and has helped crush-load Australia’s major cities.

The situation will only worsen as Australia’s educational institutions continue to pivot toward lower quality students from the Indian subcontinent in a desperate attempt to keep the fees flowing in.

Leith van Onselen
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    • I pretty much agree with that.

      Given it’s been hoisted on us undemocratically, its bipartisan and is leading to the destruction of medicare, the pension et al, we should reduce our PR intake to 10,000. The remaining can all be temp workers, no benefits, no rights, and eff off when you’re 60 (or no longer useful). Higher expenses for schooling of non PR/Citizens, higher transport costs. It’s obvious they are slaves, may as well actually treat them as such…

      • Non-solution. Not if you want to have a society, rather than an economic zone.

        In the United States of North America, every independent movement of the workers was paralysed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.

        • Stewie GriffinMEMBER

          Agreed – temp workers are only there to deny the lowest members of society the pay increases that they would otherwise receive if there were no alternative.

          Wage growth is the process by which SOCIETIES rebalance and redistribute the proceeds of the economic activity that takes place WITHIN it – if you keep adding extra external components, like temporary workers, you break that rebalancing mechanism.

          ZERO temporary workers, are at least a threshold to issue a visa that is equivalent to the highest marginal tax rate. Anything short of that is simply class warfare on those least capable of resisting it.

      • There should be no temp migrants allowed in to work from poorer countries than Australia as that will still depress wages for the working poor in Aus. They can come as tourists for a visit or too study if they are legitimate, but if found working they should be deported and banned for life.

      • Jumping jack flash

        You could pull a Kuwait and pay them the amount they would be earning in their home country so there would be no economic advantage for them working here, just the advantage of living in our luxurious country and stable (generally) legal system.

        The insanely high cost of living brought about by the requirement for ludicrous amounts of debt to get by would do the rest.

  1. in last 3 years remittance outflow from Australia increased by $1.5b and remittance inflow into Nepal increased $2b

    so much about exports

  2. We’re providing valuable skills to these people so that when they go back. Oh, wait …

  3. Jumping jack flash

    Think of all the extra debt this will mean for the lucky business owners who are fortunate enough to snare one of these goldmines.

    Debt growth is flagging. Something must be done and done quickly to restore growth rates or the 100 billion dollars required every year to pay just the interest on just our mortgage debt will suck a significant amount of productive dollars out of the economy – dollars which could be used for investment into production and consumption, and hand them over to the banks to do whatever it is they do with it. Probably create or obtain or repay debt

  4. Is it an ‘export’ if Australian money is taken out of the Australian economy (through work), to pay back course fees (principal plus interest) as well as the money send out in remittances (working student and their full-time working spouse)?

  5. I have actually heard a story from mature international student uber driver whom is from a former Kingdom turned democracy from the same region as Nepal. So the short version of what I got from his story was that the King became convinced that democracy was the better way forward for the Kingdom which disappointed alot of the people, they were happy with their standard of living, economy, the governance, etc. Then degreed qualified employed workers began being sold the message to immigrate to the West as international students for the sake of their children’s futures….they do the hardwork in these countries so that their children don’t have to because if you immigrate the whole world becomes of opportunities becomes available to your children with a western qualifications, stay and you are limiting your children’s opportunities. So they leave steady employment and a strong culture around family and community and they come here to pay international student fees and work very hard to save whilst studying to later bring their children over to pay public schools international student fees for their children. They have managed to build a much needed small community over here because as you can imagine, these poor people are under enormous pressure which they are putting themselves through because they are so dedicated to their children’s futures (what they believe is best after targeted marketing) and maybe it is – who know what the future of their country will be like after many years of democracy. However he has reported domestic violence and suicide by some in the community which he attributes to the stress and pressure of their situations. I really feel like this story isn’t being told enough – they are doing what they think is best for their children whilst in terms of government policy they are just imported consumers, an easy way to achieve growth via increasing population numbers whilst the standard in the quality of living dimishes for both the immigrants and nationals as a result.