InThisTogether with Inner Melbourne Community Legal

During this difficult time, there are a number of legal support systems that international students have available to them. Inner Melbourne Community Legal (IMCL) has been helping international students by providing a range of resources to help identify and resolve legal issues.

25 Aug 2020

#InThisTogether with Inner Melbourne Community Legal

During this difficult time, there are a number of legal support systems that international students have available to them. Inner Melbourne Community Legal (IMCL) has been helping international students by providing a range of resources to help identify and resolve legal issues.

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International students are such an important part of Victoria's cultural life and diversity. Yet, because of lack of awareness of their legal rights, language barriers and lack of social support, they are especially vulnerable to exploitation during COVID-19.

The main issues faced by international students

As identified by Inner Melbourne Community Legal, there are four main areas where international students have been experiencing significant issues during this time. These are:

Employment

"Common employment issues during the pandemic have included international students' having their work hours reduced, underpayment, safety issues relating to the virus and being hired as a contractor instead of an employee. COVID-19 is a difficult time for businesses, but it's important that students know their rights at work and where to get free help so that they are not treated unfairly or exploited."

Housing

"Before the pandemic, a UNSW study revealed that more than half of international students in Australia were being exploited by landlords by being tricked into paying for accommodation that doesn't exist, being intimidated or harassed, and being unfairly evicted. With COVID-19, it is likely that these problems have significantly increased. It is really important for students having problems with their landlord to know their housing rights and seek free legal help."

Safety

"The physical distancing measures imposed due to COVID-19 means that people are spending more time at home with partners or family members who they do not feel safe with. Things like loss of employment and financial stress also increase the risk of someone in your home making you feel scared, sad or controlled. It can be hard for international students to seek help if they don't know where to get help and don't have many social supports in Australia, or if they think this behaviour is normal. Students should know that they are not alone, and that there are things they can do and people who can help."

Fines

"Many students are experiencing financial distress and may be having difficulty paying for things like public transport tickets. Police have also issued over 6000 substantial fines to people for breaking physical distancing and quarantine measures. If a student receives a fine and they want to challenge it or cannot pay it, they shouldn't ignore it. They can get free help from a community lawyer who can help them find a solution."

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Students seeking support

As outlined by Inner Melbourne Community Legal, where students should seek help will depend on the problem they are experiencing. In response to the pandemic, they have developed the International Student Legal Information resource to make the process simpler.

"We knew that to make a difference, it wasn't enough to provide support to international students once they already had a serious legal issue. We wanted to address the problem much earlier by making sure that students knew their legal rights and where to get free help as soon as they had a problem. Ideally, we want to prevent problems from developing in the first place. International Student Legal Information is a free online … resource designed to help international students in Victoria identify their legal issue and learn about the pathways to free help for different problems connected with where they live, work and study."

To make the information as accessible as possible, the resource uses scenarios based on the real-life experiences of international students and is translated across four different languages: English, 中文, Tiếng Việt and Español.

In addition, international students can also get information and support, including mental health assistance and legal advice services, from the Study Melbourne Student Centre (contact the Student Centre by email or call 1800 056 449).

"Know that you are not alone and that there are always things you can do and people who can help. Do not hesitate to seek legal help," shares IMCL. "Even if you are not sure your problem is a legal problem, your local community legal centre can point you in the right direction to get support."