THE National Union of Students has called on the Federal Government to launch an official inquiry into the mistreatment of international students.
Union president David Burrow said international students were facing exploitation by “dodgy English-language providers, unscrupulous landlords and underhand bosses”.
He said the 20-hour working week cap on student visas were forcing some international students into “black-market jobs” and “under-the-counter arrangements’‘.
There were tales of greedy landlords squeezing as many as ten students into three-bedroom apartments, at $150 per person per week.
“Issues are compounded by lower levels of English proficiency, separation from kin and culture and occasional racism and violence,” Mr Burrow said.
He said the Federal Government needed to “stop fencing shadows”.
“The Victorian Government has acknowledged the problems with the Overseas Student Taskforce report late last year; the Federal Government can do the same.
“An inquiry would be good for Australia’s reputation, the sector and the well-being of international students,” he said.
The Australian Federation of International Students (AFIS) has backed the union’s push for an inquiry.
AFIS national executive director Douglas Tsoi said international students were a vulnerable group and were constantly being taken advantage because of that.
“Sometimes they [the government] don’t understand… the complexities that international students face and how difficult it is for some of them,” he said.
“Most international students have to work.
“A lot of students coming in from other countries have to pay not only for their own living expenses, but also for their course fees, and some even have to send money back home.”
He said financial pressures sometimes meant students had to cut classes to work, and those who failed to meet the minimum requirement for school attendance had their enrolments cancelled by the university as a result.
He said AFIS had received and addressed the concerns and needs of a growing number of international students in the past year.
The high cost of education had not been matched by the same level of student support services, which he described as poor or even non-existent, he said.
The case of Jimmy, a Mauritian international student studying in Melbourne made headlines in November last year.
Jimmy had to work three jobs while attending classes to pay for his weekly rent, and was asked to move out when he fell behind with the rent.
He was homeless, unable to turn to his family who was back in Mauritius, and got attacked by five drunks in the city.
He turned to his lecturer in his college, who did nothing to help him, and his enrolment was later cancelled due to lack of attendance.
Though Jimmy later found help with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to resolve his visa issues, others may not have been so lucky.
This situation is not localised to any particular Australian state, and is developing into a crisis that threatens Australia’s international standing as a study destination of choice, Mr Tsoi said.