Monday, August 11, 2008

Overseas students flout work rules

INTERNATIONAL students are making a mockery of immigration laws by flouting visa conditions which limit them to 20-hour working weeks, with those driving taxis in Victoria clocking up to twice as many hours behind the wheel as they're allowed.

Despite a warning from Immigration Minister Chris Evans that taxi owners who employed students in breach of their visa restrictions risked up to two years' jail, cab advocacy bodies and student drivers revealed the industry was largely ignoring the law.

Student bodies have urged the Rudd Government to lift the 20-hour cap, saying overseas pupils should be entitled to juggle their academic commitments with as many hours of work as they can manage.

The Australian understands the Howard government planned to target Victorian taxi businesses as a first step in a national crackdown on students who were rorting the employment restrictions of their visas.

Victorian Taxi Drivers Association secretary Thomas Henderson, whose organisation represents the interests of both driver and owner members, admitted some holders of student visas were clocking up to 40 hours a week on the road.

"One work shift consists of 12 hours and even if they do two shifts they're already done four extra hours," Mr Henderson said. "But the moment (working hours) start to come to the notice of the authorities, it starts to become verydifficult for students because they are only allowed to work 20 hours a week."

The National Liaison Committee for International Students in Australia played down visa breaches, saying increasing living expenses were pushing overseas pupils to work beyond their limits.

NLC president Eric Pang said the federal Government should abolish the 20-hour working week limit and allow students to work at their own discretion.

"The working hours should be up to the students and the institutions," he said. "If the student can study full time and is performing well (academically) then, yes, they can work more than 20 hours. If they can't perform well in their studies, then they shouldn't work more than 20 hours.

"The new Government should be reviewing this (working) policy but the aim should be to provide more flexibility and more rights in terms of how much (students) want to work and how much they want to study."

The federal Government has given no indication it is considering relaxing the law. Senator Evans said taxi owners who employed students in breach of their visas also risked a fine of up to $13,200.

"Taxi owners, like all employers, are responsible for ensuring that overseas workers -- including students -- abide by their visa conditions," he said.

It is understood former immigration minister Kevin Andrews wanted to pursue student visa rorters working as cab drivers through the Victorian Taxi Directorate.

In the lead-up to last November's federal election, Mr Andrews was planning to demand the personal details of student taxi drivers from the VTD to determine the number of hours they had been working. Anyone found to have breached their visa conditions would have risked being deported.

Mr Henderson said student drivers, many of whom drove at night, shouldn't have to pay taxes because they had to put up with disorderly passengers. "If you ever think about what these poor guys have to put up with, then they shouldn't be taxed at all," he said.

Source: The Australian