Knight report changes welcome but insufficient

michael-knightThe government has softened some of the harshest aspects of legislation relating to international students at work. The recent Knight report, which criticised the mandatory cancellation of visas for students who work more than 20 hours in a week, clearly put some pressure on the government to clean up its treatment of foreign students.

The proposed changes, however, are completely insufficient, and still paint international students as little more than cash cows.

Under the changes,

– the 20-hour week will become a 40-hour fortnight (so students can work more in their holidays and better balance their university workload with employment)

– The mandatory cancellation requirement for unsatisfactory attendance, unsatisfactory progress and working in excess of the hours allowed will be removed, and the immigration department will hear claims of extenuating circumstances.

– a two- to four-year post-study work visa will be introduced for foreign university graduates

While certainly a welcome relief for many international students, there are some glaring omissions and clear insufficiencies with these changes. UNITE argues that

– TAFE students should be included in the changes. The 20-hour week and mandatory visa cancellation will still apply to all international TAFE students.

– The changes should be immediate. Currently they will not come into effect until second semester next year.

– There should be an amnesty for all international students who report workplace exploitation/underpayment.

– Any restriction on the working hours of international students leaves them open to the kind of exploitation we have seen and exposed at 7-Eleven, Subway, and other bars, shops and restaurants.

– Any group of workers with fewer rights just serves to undercut wages and conditions more generally.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship described the forthcoming changes as ‘a suite of measures to enhance the competitiveness of Australia’s international education sector.’ This attitude ignores the government’s own influence on the sector through its short-sighted mishandling of the mining boom. More importantly, it continues to push the line that education is nothing but a business, rather than a means to improve and enrich society, and students nothing but cash cows.

These changes are an improvement, but they are not enough and furthermore sound ludicrous when painted as the saviour of the economic sustainability of the education sector. International students should join UNITE and their student unions and demand the lifting of all work restrictions. All workers, including the most vulnerable, need to begin the fight back against  exploitation at work.