A national voice for immigrant and refugee women’s wellbeing in Australia

International students’ rights: it’s time for change

International students’ rights: it’s time for change

Image via map.my
Image via map.my

It’s a little known fact but an important one: there are more people arriving into Australia as temporary migrants than there are recently arrived permanent migrants. As of December 2015 there were over 1 million people living in Australia on temporary visas, compared to about 190,000 migrants who settled in the country as part of the 2014-2015 Migration Program.

Statistics also show that more than 40% of new permanent migrants are not so ‘foreign’, ‘international’, or ‘temporary’ at all and have already been in the country under some type (or in many cases, other types) of visas for several years. Many have successfully overcome the challenges of precariousness in order to secure permanency and stability. But at what cost? The answers are strikingly clear if we take the case of international students.

Since last recorded (December last year), there were about 352,000 immigrants on student and temporary graduate visas. That’s almost twice that of our total yearly permanent migrant intake. You would think that, given their numbers, they must by living it up in Australia: enjoying all the privileges, advantages and benefits of a student on an international holiday. Not so. Despite the negative stereotypes of cashed up international students stealing jobs, there is actually more evidence that shows temporary residency status can impact negatively on international students’ health and wellbeing.

While all students face the mounting expenses related to education, as well as the general cost of living, international students also face exploitation in employment and accommodation, and experience social isolation, racism and discrimination. International student’s situation is only worsened by their temporary visa status, which limits their access and entitlement to services and support.

It’s now four years since the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) first articulated the human rights of international students and more than five years since MCWH first identified the challenges female international students face in relation to accessing equitable pregnancy-related care. During this time, after four changes of prime minister, the precarious situation for international students, particularly those who find themselves pregnant in the first 12 months of arrival, remains unchanged.

Why are we struggling to uphold international students’ human rights? A recent review of the AHRC’s Principles to promote and protect the human rights of International Students suggested that the challenge can arise because human rights principles are seen to be too broad to advocate for change.

We can rise to this challenge. MCWH’s advocacy position on advancing the rights of international students to pregnancy-related care is practicable and specific: remove the 12 month waiting period for pregnancy-related care from the terms of the Overseas Student Health Cover Deed, so that international students can access equitable and affordable sexual and reproductive health care whenever it is needed. It’s not the only step, but a first step to eliminating discrimination against female international students and their partners.