Work-hour restrictions reintroduction leave foreign students concerned

Rising living costs and work-hour restrictions create significant financial hardships for international students.

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In Australia, the reintroduction of work-hour restrictions for international students has sparked concerns among the student community. The decision, set to take effect from July 1, 2023, is a blow to students like Arpit, who have been relying on multiple jobs to finance their education and living expenses. With the cost of living skyrocketing post-pandemic, many students struggle to make ends meet.

Arpit, a university student from overseas who preferred to withhold his full name, expressed his worry about how he would manage to pay his upcoming semester fees. Despite working tirelessly in two jobs and even taking up food delivery services, he has been unable to save enough money. The high rent and the surging fuel prices have significantly impacted his ability to cover his bills.

Arpit’s situation is common, as thousands of international students in Australian universities face similar predicaments. These students often work at small businesses to finance their education and support their studies. However, the relaxation of work restrictions during the pandemic provided some respite, allowing primary and secondary student visa holders to work beyond the usual limit of 40 hours per fortnight to address workforce shortages. Regrettably, the government has now decided to reimpose these limitations.

The reintroduction of work-hour restrictions has sparked anxiety among students like Arpit, especially considering the increased cost of living following the COVID-19 crisis.

However, the impact of these restrictions extends beyond the students themselves. Mohammad Shahnawaz, a small business owner in Wollongong, highlighted employers’ challenges. According to Shahnawaz, hiring additional employees to comply with the restrictions increases employer expenses, including higher employee insurance costs and added management responsibilities. Shahnawaz believes that more full-time employees are needed for the sustainability of businesses.

Mohammad Shahnawaz, owner of Serena Foods, says that hiring more employees to comply with the restrictions results in increased expenses. Photo: Vivek Asri
Mohammad Shahnawaz, owner of Serena Foods, says that hiring more employees to comply with the restrictions results in increased expenses. Photo: Vivek Asri

The Australian government justifies the limited working hours for international students by emphasizing 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 opportunities for personal growth and development.

The UNSW Student Representative Council launched a petition calling for removing the cap on international student working hours. In their petition, they argue that students should have access to greater opportunities to make selfless contributions and participate in ventures that promote the Australian economy’s growth, recovery, and stabilization.

Shahnawaz, himself an international student turned business owner, believes that allowing international students to work full-time would be mutually beneficial for both the students and the Australian community. He points out that when students work, they learn and integrate into Australian society and bring valuable skills and knowledge that can contribute to local businesses.

Mohammad, the General Manager of Grow Café says explains why giving work rights to the International students is important for businesses. He says bring more energy and enthusiasm at workplace

“Giving them full time work provide stability for both employers and employees. Retention rate will improve, because hiring and training new staffs are very expensive and time consuming,” Mohammad told Indian Link.

“Research has shown full time employees are more  dedicated and reliable compare to casual or part-timer. Full time employment comes with lot of  responsibilities and make  both parties accountable for the success of the establishment,” he added.

In contrast, Hardik Jindal, an International Student himself, holds the belief that increasing working hours would have a negative impact on studies.

According to Jindal, universities are already grappling with the issue of low attendance among International students. He emphasizes the unfortunate reality that many students dedicate their time to employment instead of their academic pursuits.

“Upon arrival, students made a commitment to have sufficient funds to sustain themselves. Consequently, Jindal deems it unreasonable to request an extension of working hours, suggesting that students would benefit more from prioritizing their studies,” said Mr Jindal, the President of Indian Student Association’s University of Wollongong Club.

The Australian government has made exceptions for student visa holders already working in the aged care sector, allowing them to continue working unrestricted hours until December 31, 2023. However, for all other student visa holders, work restrictions will be reintroduced and capped at a slightly increased rate of 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.

As the reintroduction of work-hour restrictions looms, international students in Australia grapple with financial hardships and limited opportunities for self-sufficiency. The ongoing debate between students and authorities regarding work limitations continues as stakeholders consider the long-term implications for both the education sector and the Australian economy.

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