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The University of Adelaide. Picture: Kelly Barnes / NCA Newswire

Unions NSW stands up for international students

Unions NSW has recommended each state and territory reconsider work and travel restrictions on international students to ease cost of living pressures as fears about the possible overseas student tax looms.

The union said overseas students are being disproportionately affected by rising food and rent prices and adhering to tight housing and transport rules is making it worse.

International students can only work a maximum of 48 hours a fortnight, unless they work in the aged care sector, and cannot apply for many education-related travel subsidies.

The Union recommends the establishment of migrant worker centres in each state for workplace rights advice, the reconsideration of work hour restrictions on student visas, and an extension of travel subsidies.

Covid-era laws allowed migrant students to work unlimited hours and study remotely, but were canned in July this year.

Unions NSW assistant secretary Thomas Costa said these restrictions can lead to many international students accepting 'substandard' living conditions and being underpaid by employers.

"Our data paints a grim reality of exploitation and hardship among temporary migrant workers, with international students facing the brunt of the housing crisis," Mr Costa said.

"It is high time that educational institutions step up to provide adequate housing, and that the NSW government extends travel concessions to international students, ensuring parity with other students."

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported that rent has risen 14 per cent in the year to July 2023 for new tenants, which the Union pointed out overwhelmingly includes overseas students studying in Australia.

"Temporary migrants contributed $29 billion to the Australian economy in 2022," Mr Costa said.

"Yet, they are met with reinstated caps on work hours and a lack of support services. Universities and the government must act to avert a deepening of this crisis."

International student levy

International students could soon also be subject to a tax for coming to learn in Australia, that has potential to bring $1b each year to the tertiary education sector.

The federal government is considering taxing international students to help cut soaring migration numbers, which are also contributing to the nation’s rental crisis.

However, the University of Adelaide (Adelaide) said they fear the potential impost could damage Australia's reputation as a student destination and have a negative economic impact.

An Adelaide spokeswoman said international students brought “enormous benefits” to SA, both "culturally and economically".

"A levy of any kind … will risk the enduring success of the sector, risk our global reputation, and is not in the national interest," she said.

The Australian Universities Accord interim report raised the idea of a levy on international students, which the Group of Eight universities rejected.

SA Premier Peter Malinauskas said he has not yet received briefings from the federal government about the levy.

"As a state, we’ve made changes to try and grow the number of international students we can accommodate without that being at the expense of domestic education," the Premier said.

"So we would want to make sure any changes that occur federally don’t undermine that."

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