Australia reintroduces allowable working hours for international students

Australia reintroduces allowable working hours for international students

Reinstating the fortnightly work hour cap

The Australian Government has announced that effective 1 July 2023, the new cap for working hours for international students will be raised to 48 hours per fortnight – a 14-day period which begins on a Monday and ends on a Sunday. The prior cap of 40 hours was relaxed throughout the pandemic, and then totally lifted in January 2022 as a temporary measure. This was done in order to allow students to boost their income while simultaneously addressing the nation’s worker shortages. Despite the end of this arrangement, international students are now able to work for eight more hours than they previously could.

The new cap applies to all international students, except for student visa holders who have already been working in the aged care sector on 9 May 2023. These students have been given more room to breathe as they are allowed to proceed working unrestricted hours within this sector until 31 December 2023. The new cap of 48 hours per fortnight will only apply to them starting 1 January 2024.

Reactions from international students groups

According to an ABC News article, student groups such as the Support Network for International Students (SNIS) have organised to make their concerns heard. Last June, they held a petition signing
outside the State Library of Victoria to garner support in asking the government to get rid of the cap.
SNIS Coordinator Ness Gavanzo said that the group had also drafted an open letter addressed to
Minister for Immigration Andrew Giles and Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil, asking the government to reconsider its decision. She says that their group had the support of more than 50 organisations and upwards of 1,300 signatures from the public.

Gunveer Singh, a 26-year old business student in Melbourne, told SBS Punjabi that the re-introduction
of work-hour restrictions would make it more difficult for some students to make ends meet. He says,
“Currently, most students are clocking unlimited hours to finance their studies and manage the overall
living expenses in Australia, which are skyrocketing. The limit of 24 hours a week would break the backs
of many students who only come to Australia with the funds for the first semester and rely on onshore
jobs to churn out tuition fees for the remainder of their degrees.”

Amidst skepticism and petitions to retain the unlimited number of work hours from various student
groups, the government maintains that the working hour cap is being reinstated to regulate and balance international students’ needs. The cap allows them to support themselves and gain valuable work experience while engaging fully in their primary purpose, which is to pursue their studies in Australia.

Protection under the Fair Work Ombudsman

The government assures international students that regardless of this new work-hour cap, they are still protected by the same rights under Australian workplace law. The Department of Education has outlined in their memo that they are “committed to addressing the exploitation of migrant workers in all sectors and [are] aware of the risks of exploitation that international students can face, where limited work hours are a condition of their visa.”

For any anomalies or injustices in the workplace, the government encourages individuals to seek help
from the Fair Work Ombudsman, an Australian Government agency which helps regulate Australian
workplaces. Agreeing with the recommendations in the Post-Study Work Rights Report, the government “ensur[es] information about the role of the Fair Work Ombudsman in securing workplace rights and protections for all workers in Australia is available to international students and graduates”.

One way by which the Fair Work Ombudsman can address exploitations in the workplace is through the Assurance Protocol, which applies to holders of student visas (subclass 500 series visas). The Assurance Protocol mainly guarantees that The Department of Home Affairs will not cancel any visa, even if the holder has breached their work-related visa conditions because of workplace exploitation, as long as these conditions are met:

  • The visa holder has sought advice or support from The Fair Work Ombudsman and is helping with their inquiries;
  • there is no other reason to cancel the visa (for example, for national security, character, health or fraud reasons); and
  • they have committed to following their visa conditions in the future.


As this new arrangement has just taken effect, we have yet to witness and feel its impact; on the government, international students, and the workforce.

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