International students pay more for their education in Australia but are squeezed out of the job and internship market.
A growing number of students say they are dissatisfied with their internship and work experience opportunities.
While some parents are able to subsidise fees, many international students are expected to pay their own living expenses while also seeking career experience.
Indian-born University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Master of Structural Engineering student, Harshith Krishnappa, said he chose to study in Australia to gain international work experience in his field. However, he is not confident he will achieve what he came for.
“I completely have lost hope,” Mr Krishnappa said.
“[Prospective employers] won’t even see my resume,” Mr. Krishnappa said. “They'll put me into a waiting list until I get citizenship or PR [permanent residency].”
“Even though I had the experience and knowledge, it's like I couldn't use it.”
Almost half a million foreign nationals are enrolled in Australian higher education or Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses as of June this year.
Fifty-eight per cent of young Australians (18-29-year-olds) completed unpaid work experience. Many locals also gain paid internships or casual entry-level roles during their studies.
If I try to find a job, they require me to have the PR [permanent residency]. If I try to get a PR, I need to have a job - Michael Mei
Hazel Johal, a UTS Bachelor of Business student from India, believes she has not received value for her investment.
“I did not even imagine that I would have to struggle so much,” Ms Johal said. “I have wanted to give up.”
International students can be forced to pay up to four times what local students are charged for the same course.
To deal with the cost of living, it is common for internationals to seek a part-time job in the hospitality or retail sector. However, Ms Johal said even this wasn’t easy.
“Being an international student, it actually is a struggle for me to get internships, or to be able to apply for any kind of job.”
Although she has completed three business internships in Australia, Ms Johal works in a casual role at a fast food outlet. She said she has been unsuccessful in gaining an ongoing position because employers desire Australian citizens and permanent residents.
“We need to give up sleep to support ourselves. We give up sleep for physical work,” Ms Johal said. “I don't think that's fair. We break our backs to work.”
Bijay Sapkota, President of the Council of International Students Australia (CISA), said the expectations of most international students were not being met.
“If international students do not have a proper experience, if they are not globally competitive – studying in Australia might not be that useful."
“Job experience and work-integrated learning are very important to position Australia as a global leader in international education,” Mr Sapkota said.
Australia is set to become the world’s second most popular destination for international students, behind the United States. In the past year, the number of internationals in Australia jumped 11 per cent.
However, there is little data available on whether students believe they’ve had a fulfilling experience.
An employee on a student visa cannot work more than 40 hours in one fortnight while their course is in session. In scheduled university breaks, working hours are unlimited. Any paid internships and some unpaid internships count towards an international student’s 40-hour limit.
Figures released by the ABS earlier this year revealed Australia's economy was boosted by $3.8 billion in the past financial year by international students. The international education sector also supports over 130,000 jobs in the Australian economy, according to Deloitte Australia.
Vicki Bamford, UTS Senior Lecturer, said international students needed an image makeover in the eyes of employers.
“A lot of people just think that it's too much hard work – they're worried that it will reflect poorly on the organisation,” Ms Bamford said.
“There's a lot of misunderstanding there because actually we live in a global environment, and we should be embracing more international [employees] so that we can be more international ourselves.”
Ms Bamford said there are some progressive organisations which capitalise on Australia’s large international student population. But not all companies see the potential in diversifying their workforce.
Universities like UTS could be doing more to engage internationals with the right opportunities, Ms Bamford said.
“Sometimes I think it comes down to the person but I think that definitely we could do more in the careers area.”
The City of Sydney attracts more than 35,000 international students annually. It aims to develop a program which connects internationals to local businesses which provide professional internship opportunities, according to its 2017 International Engagement Framework Report.
Thirty-one per cent of international students in Australia at June 2018 were from China, with the next greatest exporters India (12 per cent), Nepal (six per cent), Malaysia (four per cent) and Brazil (four per cent).
Michael Mei, a UTS Bachelor of Medical Science student from China, said the biggest hinderance to international students is the government’s constant changes to how graduates gain permanent residency.
When thinking about his future, Mr Mei said: “Everything is unknown.”
“If I try to find a job, they require me to have the PR [permanent residency]. If I try to get a PR, I need to have a job.”
UTS Master of Engineering Management student Talha Razzak, however, said there were opportunities. With many internships advertising from the outset whether international students can apply, he said it’s a matter of research.
“The options are limited, but there are employers here who do not discriminate in that sense. You have to find the right opportunities.”
Compared with completing his undergraduate course in Malaysia, Mr Razzak said he is grateful for the ability to work while he studies.