International Students and Wage Theft in Australia

52 Pages Posted: 13 May 2021

See all articles by Bassina Farbenblum

Bassina Farbenblum

University of New South Wales (UNSW)

Laurie Berg

University of Technology Sydney, Faculty of Law

Date Written: June 30, 2020


Wage theft is endemic among temporary migrants in Australia, including international students who are entitled to work up to 40 hours per fortnight on their student visa. This report responds to the need for empirical data on international students’ responses to underpayment and other problems they encounter at work and potential effective interventions. It analyses findings from a nationwide survey of over 5,000 international students undertaken in 2019, addressing students’ rates of participation in the labour market and their wages in their lowest paid job, considering how these vary among different student cohorts. It also considers the prevalence of other forms of underpayment and record-keeping failures, dismissal after complaint to their employer, accidents and injuries, sexual harassment and overwork. After examining information- and help-seeking among international students who experienced problems at work, the report identifies key reasons why most international students did not seek information or help. Finally, it evaluates international students’ knowledge of their work rights and the prevalence of common misperceptions that may contribute to their acceptance or acquiescence to underpaid work. The report lays the foundation for education providers and government to develop more targeted interventions to address exploitation, that are evidence-based and directly respond to international students’ lived experiences captured through the survey.

Keywords: migrant workers, labour exploitation, underpayment, international education

JEL Classification: J38, J61, J83, K31, K37

Suggested Citation

Farbenblum, Bassina and Berg, Laurie, International Students and Wage Theft in Australia (June 30, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Bassina Farbenblum

University of New South Wales (UNSW) ( email )

High St
Sydney, NSW 2052

Laurie Berg (Contact Author)

University of Technology Sydney, Faculty of Law ( email )


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