Hospitality and tourism on the work menu for international students


After a year of largely staying silent on international student hardship the government relaxes on work restrictions

There were two announcements over the weekend regarding international students.

The first is that the 40 hour per fortnight work restrictions will be lifted for those who find work in the tourism and hospitality sectors. The second adds tourism and hospitality to the 408 COVID-19 Pandemic Event Visa, which is valid for 12 months and may be renewable.

“Government has listened carefully to the states, territories and industry and is introducing these changes to support critical sectors for Australia’s COVID-19 economic recovery,” Immigration Minister Alex Hawke says.

But the international education sector was taken by surprise.

Phil Honeywood from the International Education Association of Australia said that the combined peak bodies are hosting a meeting with Minister Hawke this morning to seek clarification on the implications of these measures for students.

He adds, that “in most cases Home Affairs have a strict interpretation that work would be capped for anyone on a student visa. This moves away from the previous position. Clearly our sector wants to maintain the integrity of our student visa system.”

Given the government that has been mostly silent on international student hardship requirements over the past 12 months this announcement appears a backflip.

Issues that the international education lobbies will want to discuss with Mr Hawke include:

* whether this means regular work for more international students over a longer timeframe, or just an easy-hired, easy-fired source of staff as business picks-up and drops-off as states go into and out of lockdowns during pandemic times

* most international students need to work and 2020 was tough for them. This change helps just some of them with more hours

* it creates a temptation for students to put work before their studies and will drive behaviour of students seeking to stay in Australia for work rather than those waiting for a chance to go home

*  the risk of visa hopping. The new arrangement applies to students in the last 90 days of their course and unless there is a “no further stay” condition people could put their course on hold, switch to the 408 pandemic visa and then switch back to study in the future.

Nor does this announcement do anything for struggling independents in the VET and ELICOS sectors – but they, like their international students, are not who these announcements are meant to help.

Just like last year. In March 2020, the government lifted the then capped 20 hours per fortnight in-term for international students who already had jobs stacking supermarket shelves (CMM March 16). But this only applied for a month, reverting to 20, “as more Australians are recruited into these roles” (CMM April 6).

How Mr Hawke’s new arrangement will work out is anyone’s guess.

Dirk Mulder is CMM’s international education correspondent