Allan Fels, who is leading the Federal Government’s Migrant Workers’ Task Force, believes that workplace exploitation of overseas students, is “widespread and systematic”, and was particularly bad for those studying vocational courses in Australia.  He estimates one-third of international students on working visas in Australia are being underpaid by their boss.

Mr Fels has some experience in this sector, because he was the former consumer watchdog, appointed by the Federal Government (as Chairman of the Australia Competition and Consumer Commission between 1995 and 2003).    He is currently preparing an official Report, and MBA Lawyers will be continuing to monitor the outcome of this important review.  One of the highlights is that Professor Fels says the evidence showed the majority of international students knew when they were being exploited by their boss but felt unable to speak out.   He also says exploitation of international students by businesses owned by migrants from the same ethnic group was a particular problem.   For example, a visiting student from Osaka, working part time at a restaurant owned by Japanese will typically feel reluctant to make complaint or not be aware of their workplace entitlements.

In addition to the exploitation of the visiting students, the worry within our community is broader.  For example, from a commerce perspective, those bosses who pay the appropriate but relatively high minimum wage to their staff (as obligated under Aussie workplace laws) may not be able to compete with those businesses employing foreign students with pay below minimum wage.  The issue is that the boss who is fully supporting the visiting student could be unfairly disadvantaged in the operation of their business.

Another broader worry is that a poor experience for visiting students to Australia could have serious consequences on our place within the international education sector.

In recent years, Australia has enjoyed a surge in popularity as a destination for international students.   For example, overseas student visa numbers were 304,000 in June, 2013 compared with 486,000 in June, 2018!  The international education sector is hugely important for our economy.  It is Australia’s third-biggest export industry, with revenue in the order of $32 billion.  Yet, based on the research by this high-level Government enquiry, up to 145,000 students on working holiday visas are being underpaid by employers.   This raises the concern about threat to the damage to the Australian Education sector.  Overseas students, including students from China, India and Japan, may prefer to choose to study in countries such as Canada and New Zealand, based on those countries allowing student part-time work entitlement.


MBA Lawyers has been a long time supporter of providing opportunity for students from overseas with work experience at our Law Office and including internships for students from Ontario (Canada), Tokyo and Osaka (Japan), Sweden, China and USA.