Red Tape Discrimination: Part 1

By Hannah Cross

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The Australian Government prides itself on the numbers of international students that flock to the country each year. But simple bureaucratic failure has prevented students from having access to some jobs. It’s also causing problems for providers nationally. Here’s where they went wrong.

It’s a piece of legislation nearly two decades old that is causing strife nationally – for both students and providers. The Educational Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act 2000 is the framework that guides institutions on how they deliver education to international students on student visas in Australia.

This makes sense, as education and visas are tricky business – we need some guidelines to follow so everything works the way it should and international students can live and work comfortably while studying in Australia. Except international students on student visas are being excluded from working in entire industries because of it.

Here’s the problem: the Act outlines that Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) can’t train international students unless they are accredited on a single register, the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS).

This means that any such training – even something simple like an RSA or White Card – from providers without CRICOS accreditation becomes illegal. The maximum penalty for this is two years imprisonment.

On top of this, the register has been set up in such a way that it is impossible to register single-unit competencies such as the Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) or General Construction Induction (White Card) on the system.

If you’re an international student hoping to get some part-time bar work or pick up some shifts in the construction industry, you’re out of luck.

International students misled

“I was under the assumption from my education recruiting agency that it’s easy to get part time work in Australia,” says international student, Mandy Soo.

Soo has come from Malaysia to study a Masters of Sustainable Development at Murdoch. She says she came to Australia for its renowned natural landscapes and laidback lifestyle. She was unaware it would be so difficult to find work at first.

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“It has been challenging looking for work here in Perth,” she says, adding that when she attended pre-departure briefings, she had students telling her how easy it was to get a job in Australia.

Soo tried to enrol for the RSA and White Card single-unit competencies via JobReady, but was told she wasn’t eligible because the provider she was trying to register with was not CRICOS accredited. This prolonged her job search as she had to search for jobs that don’t require the certificates she can’t have.

Understandably, Soo feels misled and believes the regulations surrounding international students are very limiting.

“I think the regulation is ridiculous and completely irrelevant to the situation,” she says, “That regulation really limits the already limited job opportunities for international students.”

Luckily, Soo has now found a job and is able to work, but not without unnecessary difficulty caused by the government’s requirement of CRICOS registration.

Provider problems

Many providers are unaware of this as well as students, which points to a gaping hole in the systems we have in place for training international students.

“It’s a big concern for us at the Guild because so many of the students that we help are international and this is limiting their opportunities,” says Thomas Stewart, who previously ran Murdoch Guild’s JobReady program. JobReady assists Murdoch students with training and employment skills.

Stewart says the impact of this is significant and has tried himself to find CRICOS accredited providers for international students to train with. What he didn’t realise was the number of providers who were unaware the requirement even existed.

“I even had a CEO [of a training provider] call me up and apologise because they’d just found out they didn’t have their CRICOS registration and had been training international students this whole time,” he says. The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) is responsible for auditing providers of vocational education and training so instances such as these don’t happen.

Head of New South Wales consulting agency, Newbery Consulting, Joe Newbery suggests the issue hasn’t been properly regulated in the past. Newbery works with RTOs to support the Australian Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. He says this is not a new problem and that it has likely been an issue since the ESOS Act 2000 first came about.

“I think this is just a quirk of legislation and a quirk of the development of the VET sector,” he says.

Newbery says the software used to register RTOs is not set up to deal with single units of competency, rather longer qualifications only. This means the register can potentially include these single-unit competencies, but the physical system is not set up to apply in this way. He also notes that ASQA has begun working with government departments to resolve the issue.

An enquiry was sent to ASQA regarding this issue, however no response was received before the time of publication.

As more information comes to light about the national impact this requirement is having, updates on this matter will continue. There is more to come from METIOR, watch this space.

METIOR EditorComment