International Students in Australia

Recently I had an International Student friend complaining about his time in Sydney, another Australian friend, couldn’t really understand why.

I have long wanted to say something about this, and I think this is the proper time and place to do it, both to express the point of view of International Students and for Australians to better understand the kind of difficulties International Students are faced here with.

This article is mostly about the situation in Sydney, written from a European’s student point of view.

Anyone coming to Australia has to come on a long, expensive trip, a plane ticket from Europe is at least 1000 euros, and that is one way…

Once they get to Australia, International Students face certain difficulties:

– the jobs they have access to, are only low level jobs with extremely high levels of stress and physical strain like: kitchen hand, sandwich hand, bike delivery, floor staff, bartender, waiter, cafe all rounder
– high rent, there is a shortage of housing, especially in Sydney, and landlords and agencies use this to their own advantage to cash in
– they do not get discounts on public transport, which means instead of spending $10-15 dollars a week for transport like Australian students, they have to spend $30-40 per week

Now let’s break those 3 down and elaborate:


Australian law states that an international student is allowed to work only 20 hours a week. The pay international students get in hand is between $8-$22 per hour, depending where they work. $8 would be at a Convenience Store, cash in hand; $22 would be as a bartender for a weekend shift, chef, cook or waiter, contract about $25 before tax, $22 in hand.

To live in Sydney, you need on a weekly basis, to pay $180 on average for rent, transport up to $40 and food up to $100. That totals up to $320. Many people pay rent as high as $250, and I haven’t even gotten into bond.

Now let’s take the best paid people and multiply their pay $22 by 20 hours = $440

$440 – $320 = $120

Now if they want to buy something, go to a movie, go out, or to a concert, there is scarcely anything left. What if they want to save for a ticket back home, which is $1500? They basically have to save for more than a year!!! And this is the people with the best pay, which are not many, and this means just work and school for more than one year, not going out once!!!

Most people get paid up to $17 an hour, let’s do their math.

$17 x 20 = $340

$340 – $320 weekly expenses = $20

Remember this is just for surviving, no fun, no going anywhere except home (which a lot of time is a crowded place with nightmarish flatmates), school and work, basically with no break, a never ending circle.

Now there are a lot of people who get paid less than $17 per hour, like $15, or $12, or even $8.

Just for fun, let’s see the person who earns $8 an hour.

$8 x 20 = $160

$160 – $320 = – $160 !!!

How do international students survive in Sydney then? By working more than 20 hours of course, probably 80% of the international students in Sydney work more than 20 hours a week. And by living like rats clustered in a room to cut on the rent.

The Australian public barely knows anything about this, as they do not live in the same environment as the International Students do.

Japanese people usually can find work only in Japanese places or Japanese owned places; restaurants, convenience stores, escort houses; and because the Japanese owners know this they usually pay between $8 and $12.

Japanese people almost never get hired in a bar, or retail, or anywhere else because of their thick accent. If they would be actually hired there, it would improve their english, instead, they work in Japanese places where they speak Japanese.

When international students come to Sydney to look for work, they have competition; from local Australians, and from backpackers, they are both preferred by employers, international students being third choice. Australians are preferred for obvious reasons, backpackers are preferred because they are usually on a traveling holiday visa and they do not have work restrictions.

Some hospitality venues also have weird kinds of policies: don’t hire asians, don’t hire blacks, don’t hire boys, etc. which of course are not officially endorsed, but you get to hear of them.

There is also no chance of promotion, I have been witness of international students working in the same place more than a year and a half, and instead of them getting promoted, the management promoted a local, that was there for less than 6 months, and could literally not cope with his newly appointed position, but nothing changed about it, they kept the person in the same position even if that person was making a never ending string of mistakes.

This leads to a paradox, you have doctors selling ice cream, engineer waiters, marketing specialist bartenders, IT specialists cleaners and so on, wouldn’t Australia benefit with having these people working in their proper positions?

You can also get fired at any moment, for no reason. In a place where I used to work, somebody got fired because of a managers mistake, but the manager never got investigated and the bartender was fired instead. Also when you get fired, you’re rarely being told to your face; “things” start happening like your name is not rostered anymore, or money starts “missing” from your cash machine, and you start getting written warnings.

This is widespread and common practice.

High rent:

2 bedroom apartments with 8 people living in them is pretty much the standard, and each person pays $160-180. There are 3 people in one room, 2 in the other and 3 in the living room, having their “rooms” portioned off by bed sheets. You can find accommodation ads like: share room with 2 people, no person sleeping in the living room, or only 1 person sleeping in the living room, which are supposed to be a “really good deal.”

If you are looking to live in a house they are usually in bad shape, and almost no house in Sydney has central heating, although it gets really cold during winter. I don’t understand how people have been building houses in Sydney for more than 200 years and don’t build central heating in them. You can have your electric heater on of course, but that barely makes up for the lack of thermal structural isolation, proper double windows, central heading and sends the electricity bill through the roof.

As there is a constant demand for accommodation, even if the house is falling apart, the rent doesn’t go down, because if you’re not going to take the room, the next person will.

Public Transport:

If you go to study in a foreign country, you would think you would have some kind of assistance. You paid money to travel there, you’re going to pay the school, you’re going to pay more for everything in the beginning because you don’t know what is the right price, and where to get things cheapest; which includes the rent as well.

Well in Sydney it’s quite the contrary for transport. If you’re an international student, you have to pay full fee.

To put it simply, the local government is totally missing the plot, and should put more energy in developing proper housing, and working conditions. Should offer the same transport discount rates for international students as they are offering for Australians, and as long as a student meets the required attendance and passes the exams, she/he should be able to work as many hours as they can. They put most of the money they earn back into the Australian economy anyway, so where is the problem?

If anything they should put more energy in policing not the students, but the employers, because most of them are not respecting Australian workplace rights and OH&S regulations.

Australians usually have a standard answer for foreign people complaining, this being:

“If you don’t like it, go back to your own country”

However, if you invite somebody into your house and take their money, you should be fair and tell them about the conditions you are offering. I haven’t even mentioned that most schools, although not all of them, have the curriculum and teaching staff below par.

So next time when advertisements for studying in Australia are put out, they should come with the following disclaimer:

– you will have to work a job way under your qualification, having to obey a boss way under your intelligence level, who is crassly less qualified than you, and thinks he is smarter than you
– you will have to work less efficiently than you can, because that’s how the system is set up and that’s how the boss wants you to work
– you will only be able to work in hospitality or cleaning jobs
– you will have to live in houses with no heating or thermal isolation, pay an exorbitant price and share your room with at least one person
– you will have to pay more than double for transport of what an Australian student pays
– you can be dismissed from your workplace on the spot at any time for no good reason
– you will be expected to work every weekend for an indefinite amount of time, and will be given no holiday unless you specifically ask for it, don’t ask too often
– the amount of hours you are legally entitled to work on a student visa will not earn you enough money to survive in Sydney, and the jobs you have access to are menial so keep your health, don’t bother working in Australia, and bring all your money from home

Every website advertising study in Australia should come with this disclaimer, instead of advertising it as a “no worries” paradise…

If people still complain after reading this disclaimer you have all the rights to say: “If you don’t like it, go back to your own country”

However I’m wondering how many people will come to study in Australia after reading that disclaimer…

© 33madspirals 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to 33madspirals with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


2 responses

  1. Sarit

    Being an ex-temporary Australian student visa holder, I completely agree. I wish that it reaches out to the people, its meant for and we get to see some welfare for International students of Sydney in future.
    Very well explained buddy.

    October 23, 2010 at 7:19 am

  2. Mihnea

    Hm…quite an interesting article. I won’t come to Sidney then 🙂

    October 23, 2010 at 9:55 pm

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