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International students face tough penalties for illegal work

Meld Magazine

Fri Sep 02 2011


AN INTERNATIONAL Student Roundtable has called on the Gillard Government to average out the 20-hour weekly work restriction and limit the automatic visa cancellation of students who breach it.

students melbourne

Graphics: Vera Lam

The recommendations, part of submissions given to the Minister for Employment on Monday, come after an independent review last month found there was a growing number of non-citizens working illegally.

Council of International Students Australia president Arfa Noor said the student representatives had agreed to push for the weekly hours’ restriction to be changed to 80 hours over 28 days.

“The 20 hour condition (makes) it very difficult to get a job,” Ms Noor said.

“(Many students) do end up working extra hours, furthering opportunities for exploitation from employers.”

Ms Noor, a Melbourne business student, said the 30 international student representatives, meeting at Old Parliament House in Canberra, decided to push for a more flexible approach, rather than an increase or scrapping of the 20-hour per week restriction.

“The 20 hour work limit is more generous than (elsewhere) internationally,” Ms Noor said.

And if the limit was increased, Ms Noor said they “were worried that students would end up taking advantage of that leniency”.

“The increased work limit may affect students’ academic results,” she said.

Where special circumstances caused students to breach the restriction, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship should be able to consider those reasons before cancelling the visa, the roundtable submitted.

An independent review by Melbourne barrister Stephen Howells found, while it was not possible to calculate how many non-citizens were working illegally, at a minimum the number was 50,000.

“(And) there might now be in excess of 100,000 non-citizens working without permission,” Mr Howell said.

“In simple numerical terms it is the most significant problem facing Australian migration authorities; albeit a small number when compared with the total number of non-citizens who enter as visitors,” Mr Howell, found in the review.

Department estimates for 2010 place the figure at about 73,000, a spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said.

The review found those in breach of visas which allowed some work rights, such as students, were one part of the problem, together with “visa over-stayers” and those who had a visa which did not grant any right to work.

Two weeks ago an immigration operation apprehended six people in their 20s who had been working illegally at the Flemington markets in Sydney.

The Chinese nationals had all arrived in Australia on student visas.

The student visas of four of the people had expired, while the permanent residency applications of the other two had been rejected.

According to a department spokesman, the illegal workers were transferred to a detention centre where they would be processed ahead of their removal from Australia.

“While student visa holders may have work rights, illegal workers in Australia will not be tolerated and the department actively investigates community reports and takes swift action to apprehend non-citizens without work rights,” the spokesman said.

Those with active visas found in breach of their visa conditions face cancellation and potential detention and deportation, plus exclusion periods, the department spokesman further confirmed.

“The exclusion period is three years, however it can be …longer, for instance, if someone was removed from Australia after their visa was cancelled under the character provisions, that equates to a permanent exclusion,” the spokesman said.

Once any exclusion period lapses, a person’s immigration history is considered if they apply for a visa after that time.

The immigration department spokesman also reminded students who may look to focus more on illegal work than study that course records such as attendance and academic performance are provided to the department when international students fail to reach required standards.