International students welcome lifting of fortnightly cap on hours of paid work

International students have been called on to help ease workforce shortages caused by the spread of COVID-19.

Selina Ho, from Hong Kong, is studying business in Melbourne

Selina Ho, from Hong Kong, is studying business in Melbourne Source: SBS News

International students have welcomed the temporary lifting of a cap on the number of hours of paid work they can undertake per fortnight.

The 40-hours a fortnight cap on international student workers was removed this week to alleviate staff shortages and supply issues as more people are forced into isolation due to the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Selina Ho, a 20-year-old from Hong Kong studying business in Melbourne, said the changes were “amazing”.

She said working more hours now could also help her and other international students get their feet in the door with different employers, opening up further work possibilities in the future.

“This means that in the future, we might be able to stay here for more work opportunities,” she said.

Aksaht Sharma, a 20-year-old from India, pays for his studies in Melbourne to be a pilot with the wages he earns as a baggage handler.

“All my travel, food, rent, living expenses - everything is paid for by what I earn. I don't get anything from anywhere else,” he said.

Mr Sharma said his employer raced to double his shifts after the federal government removed the limit on the hours international students can work.

“Currently, there is nobody able to work anywhere. You go to any place, they are understaffed,” he said.

It’s been suggested the changes could help stop wage theft from foreign students who've been working extra hours under the table and below the minimum wage.  

“International students have been really plagued with the issue of wage theft primarily because they have that limitation of 40 hours per week,” said Oscar Zi Shao Ong, president of the Council of International Students Australia.

The change is also set to help international students financially support loved ones overseas who are struggling during the pandemic.

But there's concern about the ability of students working longer hours to maintain their course enrolment, and ensure satisfactory course attendance and progress, which are conditions of the student visa.

“It is sort of risky in that sense,” Mr Ong said. 

First-year international students are not permitted to work until their course commences. 

Peter Chesworth, deputy CEO of Universities Australia, said it was important that new international students in Australia maintain their studies as a high priority.

“The most important thing for international students arriving in Australia in their first year is to develop good routines and get organised,” he said.

Forty-hour caps on working limits for international students were lifted in the tourism and hospitality industries last year.

3 min read
Published 15 January 2022 at 5:34pm
By Phillippa Carisbrooke
Source: SBS News