“Education is the manifestation of perfection already in man”. This has been aptly stated by Swami Vivekananda. Every year thousands of Indian students flock to universities abroad in the hope of experiencing the much-coveted foreign education and leading what is popularly thought to be a luxurious lifestyle. But the reality is quite contrasting to these widespread beliefs.
The point I wish to highlight in this article is about the tremendous difficulties faced by international students while undertaking part time jobs in Australia. Legally, under the terms and conditions of the visa, an international student is permitted to work up to 20 hours per week and 40 hours a fortnight. There is no limit on the number of working hours during vacations (which constitute around 4-5 months in the total study period, assuming two years masters’ degree). On the face of it, this appears to be a very reasonable and generous provision. Students (who often have a massive loan burden), assume they can cover up most of their living expenses coupled with additional spending on travel and leisure.
However, a closer look at the Australian legal system and the job sector provides astonishing results. Approximately, only a quarter of formal established companies prefer to take international students for part-time jobs. A callous attitude of employers coupled with distrust towards international students, leads to many of them not being able to find jobs in their preferred interest areas, to gain industry experience.
As a result of this, many are forced to take up casual jobs in fast-food chains, restaurants, and retail stores. The labour laws of Australia (popularly called the Fair Work Ombudsman) prescribe a minimum wage of 22 Australian dollars (AUD) per hour. However, even a cursory look at these wages hints at widespread exploitation of international students, with many being paid as low as AUD 5-10 per hour.
Employers play around this rule by not accounting the overtime work. Let us say an international student works for 40 hours in a restaurant which is more than allowed limit – the employer shows only 20 hours in books and the rest of the 20 hours are not reflected on the records. And the direct consequence of this is that 20 hours never get paid. Thus, making it an effective rate of AUD 11 per hour.
Monthly expenditure for a student in Australia can be broken down into the following segments namely: Groceries (AUD 500), Travel (AUD 200), Rent (AUD 1200) and other miscellaneous charges (AUD 100), which comes to a total of AUD 2000 approximately. The deficit is generally big – which needs constant funding from parents.
The said amount is not sufficient even to meet basic needs such as groceries, let alone being able to pay rent and other allied expenses. Furthermore, in certain circumstances, students are coerced to work beyond the legally permitted hours, which might result in facing the risk of visa cancellation and deportation at the hands of law enforcement officers.
Moreover, majority of the students in their respective home countries, are not accustomed to taking up casual jobs while undertaking their education. While struggling with an inherently competitive educational system which places incredible emphasis on academic achievements, supporting oneself through casual jobs is a far cry in most instances. Thus, a sudden change in the system of instruction coupled with separation from families puts enormous pressure on many young minds and often proves to be detrimental.
It is worth noting Australia sees around a million new student enrollments every year. It is a hot destination for both undergrad and post-graduation education and comes a close third after US and UK in terms of overall attractiveness – counting reputation of Universities, cost of the program and post education work opportunities. Chinese and Indians form major chunk of these enrollments. With visa restrictions tightening in US – Indians have increasingly looked at Australia to get their higher education credentials.
So, what is the solution? In my opinion, students must be prepared in the “real” sense before planning to move abroad. It is mandatory to do extensive research on local employers and support the same with adequate networking. This can minimize the chances of being exploited in Australia as a student. Finally, it is quintessential to stay strong and not lose hope even in despair situations.