International students in Australia with eligible student visa holders can work more hours due to worker shortages in the country following an Omicron outbreak, but critics argue that this may not necessarily be a good thing.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the federal government will remove the 40-hour-a-fortnight cap on student visa-holder workers, which would mean international students will no longer have restrictions on the number of hours they can work.
Morrison also encouraged international students to return to Australia, and backpackers are also allowed into the country under working holidays visas, on the condition they are fully vaccinated, reported ABC News.
International students in Australia are warmly received but a student leader has argued that the safety and wellbeing of students could be affected.
Council of International Students Australia (CISA) president Oscar Zi Shao Ong told ABC News that many students would welcome the government’s decision. Ong, however, said international students already spend about 40 hours a week at university, and lumping a bigger workload on them to fill the labour shortage would place additional pressure on students already trying to meet university deadlines.
“The biggest question is that international students came here to study,” Ong was quoted saying. “If you’re asking them to be entirely just working as a skilled worker, then the question is should they get a different visa rather than a student visa?”
Ong added that some may not be aware of the latest news for international students in Australia, particularly new students who have arrived in Australia recently. “I think it’s a very dangerous situation for them because they won’t be having the correct advice,” he said.
Allowing students to work more hours could also put them at a greater risk of catching Covid-19. “Then who’s going to be responsible to take care of them, if international students fall sick?” he said.
In speaking about the latest news for international students in Australia, a source told the Australian Financial Review that there was a high risk of unscrupulous providers becoming “visa factories” in a repeat of the Howard-era period when there was an explosion in dodgy colleges providing worthless qualifications so students could go on to get permanent residency.
“There are two key issues: one is in the quality and integrity of the education system,” he was quoted saying. “The second is the students. Sometimes they can be complicit in enrolling in courses just so they can work. The challenges of monitoring progress and having proper systems of governance and monitoring are immense.”
Other critics told the portal that the move is simply a “low-skill work visa in disguise” that makes a farce of the “genuine temporary entrant” requirement. They say it will keep wages low and facilitate the poaching of students by cheap, low-quality providers.