Sanket Singh finds himself in a challenging predicament. In order to cover his upcoming semester’s fees and daily expenses, he requires additional income. However, he faces a roadblock as the 24-hour work limit, enforced since 1st July, restricts students on visas from working beyond 24 hours per week.
“So I am looking for a cash-in-hand job,” says Sanket, an international student at Wollongong University.
Nevertheless, the employer who previously paid $22 per hour has now reduced the wage to $18 per hour.
Many international students are in a similar situation, as they cannot legally work more than 24 hours a week.
According to Sanket’s statement to Indian Link, the employer cited the risk involved in offering a cash-in-hand job and presented him with a dilemma – either accept the reduced pay of $18 per hour or forego the opportunity altogether. Sanket believes the employer is exploiting the situation to their advantage.
Kaustubh Sanghai, from the University of Wollongong, says, “It’s been difficult in general to find a job as a student. One of the first places that I approached was the hospitality sector, mainly restaurants. I was offered a job at a restaurant that was offering to pay me in cash but at the same time was asking me to accept wages like $17-$18 per hour. Since I’m new in the country and need money for sustenance, I did plan to take that job up, but I thought I’ll first do my research, and that’s how I realised they were not even offering me anything close to the minimum wage.”
In Australia, the reintroduction of work-hour restrictions for international students has left many international students with a difficult choice. They say managing their expenditures with 24 hours of work is challenging. With the cost of living skyrocketing post-pandemic, many students struggle to make ends meet.
The Australian government justifies the work-hour limit for international students by emphasising that their primary purpose in Australia is to study, not work. When students apply for visas, they must demonstrate sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay, including payment of fees and other expenses. However, students argue that they deserve greater personal growth and development opportunities.
Mohammad Shahnawaz, a small business owner in Wollongong, says a 24-hour work limit is not practical.
“A significant portion of students are currently engaged in cash-in-hand jobs since they face restrictions in obtaining legal employment,” he tells Indian Link. “Policymakers need to grasp this reality. These students are compelled to work to cover their fees, rent, and various expenses. Moreover, businesses rely on their contributions. However, due to the imposed working hour limitations, both students and businesses have been left with no alternative but to resort to cash payments. Consequently, this situation has allowed numerous unscrupulous employers to exploit these vulnerable students.”
The Australian government has granted exceptions to student visa holders working in the aged care sector, allowing them to continue working unrestricted hours until December 31, 2023. However, for other student visa holders, the work-hour limit that were relaxed during the pandemic have been reintroduced, capping work hours at 48 hours per fortnight from July 1, 2023.
The government asserts that these limitations are intended to ensure that students can concentrate on their education while still supporting themselves financially, gaining valuable work experience, and meeting Australia’s workforce needs.
Some students have expressed concerns over certain employers in the restaurant and warehouse sectors who are exploiting the situation by underpaying in cash and pushing students to work beyond their legal hours.
A CQ university student who requested anonymity said, “The problem is that post-COVID, cost of living has skyrocketed, and this new work-hour limit as students is not helping us. But there are employers, mainly in restaurants and warehouses, who are making most of this situation by underpaying in cash and willing to take the risk of employing international students to work beyond their work hour limit.”
As the situation unfolds, international students in Australia continue to face uncertainty, with the balancing act between education and financial sustainability becoming increasingly challenging. The debate surrounding work-hour restrictions remains a topic of contention, and students are hopeful for further consideration and support from policymakers to address their current struggles.
With inputs from Torsha Sen