australia student visa
Australian employers have welcomed the news that international students will be able to work unlimited hours. Source: Thomas Samson/AFP

The announcement that Australia student visa holders can temporarily enjoy unlimited work hours due to worker shortages in the country has been warmly received by employers in the country, said a report.

Earlier this month, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the federal government would temporarily 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.

This follows a surge in Omicron cases that has fuelled labour shortages across various sectors. 

Employers including 7-Eleven, Woolworths and Bunnings say that this will be beneficial for both employers and students, many of whom have been keen to work additional hours. 

“7-Eleven’s view is that students should be allowed to work as many hours they can manage as long as they are meeting their course requirements,” Angus McKay, CEO and managing director of 7-Eleven Australia told The PIE News. “Limiting hours of work to 40 hours a fortnight places undue financial stress on international students and leaves them susceptible to exploitation in the workplace.”

Other supporters include the Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association

The Association has been calling for a change in the working hours cap since the country closed its borders for over 18 months. This means that international students already in the country can be “better utilised” whilst simultaneously filling the gap that’s been left by a lack of service station workers. 

“It will greatly assist in managing the current short-term labour shortages in our industry,” McKenzie was quoted saying. “International students have historically been, and continue to be, an essential and valuable part of our national industry workforce.”

These changes are currently temporary and will be reviewed in April 2022. 

Students must balance their work hours with their current academic obligations. Source: Michael B. Thomas/AFP

Australia student visa holders: Unlimited work hours

The unlimited work hours will be a huge benefit to international students. A key reason for this is the opportunity to earn more, and thus be better able to cover the costs of their accommodation and living expenses. 

Still, there remains a concern that international students may face exploitation in the workplace. McKenzie said a key challenge will be to stamp out wage exploitation of international students.

“Australian law requires that all workers in all industries, whether they be Australian residents or international students, must be paid the Award Minimum wage for normal hours and all appropriate shift penalties and overtime. This area continues to be a major focus of our association,” she was quoted saying.

Council of International Students Australia (CISA) president Oscar Zi Shao Ong previously 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?”

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. 

There is a concern that international students may face exploitation in the workplace due to visa changes. Source: William Thomas Cain/AFP

How student visa holders can protect themselves

The Australian government notes that international students are protected by Australia’s workplace laws.

Those who have been treated unfairly can report their treatment to the Fair Work Onbudsman.

International students can learn more about workplace rights and protections at the Know your rights page on Study Australia’s website.

New visa application fee rebates

Other visa support initiatives introduced for international students and graduates include an international student visa fee rebate and replacement Temporary Graduate visas and post-study work extensions

International students arriving in Australia between Jan. 19, 2022 and March 19, 2022 will be given refunds on their visa application fees. Morrison said that this was implemented as a “thank you for coming back and continuing to choose Australia.”

Students already in Australia and who were unable to complete their programme before their visa expired because of the impacts of COVID-19 will be given concessions, too. The most notable of these is having their student visa application fee waived when renewing or applying for a new one. 

Extra time will also be given to international applicants should they be unable to provide English language test results due to COVID-19. Students who could not supply biometrics collection or attend health checks because of COVID-19 will be given additional time, as well. They can request for extra time via their ImmiAccount. 

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.