As racist attacks on Indian students continue, a scandal has erupted over the wider discrimination faced by international students in securing a decent education and accessing rights given to domestic students. In recent weeks three more Indian students have been brutally assaulted in Sydney, beaten with baseball bats and glass bottles.
It was protests by international students against these attacks that put the appalling treatment of international students into the public eye.
The Rudd government has been eager to deny that the attacks reveal a wider racism, and to reassure Indian diplomats that Indian students are safe in Australia.
However, the government continues to resist scrapping legislation discriminating against international students that is denying them basic rights. It is this government policy that is responsible for entrenching the ongoing racism experienced by international students.
Overseas students are not eligible for travel concession cards like local students, are exploited by dodgy landlords charging extortionate rents for shared rooms in appalling conditions and are forced to find work in the most exploitative industries to meet living costs. However student visas only allow 20 hours of work per week, forcing students to violate legal restrictions in order to get by.
Protecting the profiteers
Desperate to rake in money for the foreign student industry, now worth $15 billion, the government has allowed an explosion in the number of shonky private colleges.
This has created a boom in the international student sector amounting to more than 170,000 students in the vocational education and training (VET) sector, a third of whom are Indian.
Lack of regulation has put students trying to gain skills and education at risk. Since 2001 the number of private colleges has leapt from 664 to 4892. These colleges are capitalising on the desperation of international students to get permanent residency, charging tens of thousands of dollars for placement fees for dodgy VET courses.
In 2005 laws changed to require VET students to complete 900 hours of work experience. Students desperate to study and work in Australia have been put at the mercy of college operators.
Some students are effectively used as slaves by the industry, forced to work for free in jobs unrelated to their courses. Some college operators have demand cash payments to give students a work experience completion certificate.
Worse, recent changes to migration selection rules mean not all students who have completed a VET course remain eligible for permanent residency.
Students who took out enormous loans to come to Australia on the promise of gaining permanent residency are now left in a very difficult situation where they will now be unable to repay debts using wages from working here. As one Indian student said:
“Obviously I am very angry. I’ve like taken a loan. It’s a big loan and I paid the money to the school. I came here for a purpose… I haven’t got anything.”
The government has created this situation by encouraging the expansion of the lucrative international student market. It has a responsibility not to change the rules of the game and leave students short changed.
Gautam Gupta from the Federation of Indian Students Australia (FISA) has warned that brewing frustration among international students may cause people to return to the streets to fight for their rights. As Gupta stated:
“There may be potential for a class action against the Government for fraud or false information provided to these students and the make believe that they can do these courses and then potentially settle in Australia.”
While the government continues to project the image that Australia is a welcoming “multicultural” society, international students are adamant that the blatant racism must stop.
Students around Australia have called a major demonstration on September 2 to demand an end to the discriminatory legislation that is perpetuating racism towards international students.
By Daisy Farnham