Student taxi drivers, visas and immigration

By Michaela Rost

Melbourne: The 5000 mainly Indian international students working as part time taxi drivers face further hidden problems. Not only must they deal with “assault, abuse, fare evasion 12 hour shifts, poor security – all this for $8 an hour”, as The Age reported, but they are also under surveillance from the department of immigration.

Student cabbies protesting after the brutal attack on their colleague bravely risked losing their visas. Had police been instructed to arrest them, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship could have canceled their student visas.

Throughout the year, DIAC conducts routine ‘compliance field operations’, or raids, on taxi drivers to determine if they are working more than 20 hours per week – the work limit imposed on students by migration regulations.

Students found working two 12 hour minimum taxi shifts automatically have their visas revoked under mandatory visa cancellation law, and must leave Australia as soon as possible.

Yet they may not actually work the long 12 hours straight, but sometimes study or sleep few hours in their cab. Nevertheless, because of slave labour wages, their only option is take two shifts totaling 24 hours – despite the risk of losing their visa – since rising living and education costs, in addition to many other unforeseen expenses, are very hard to meet.
For example, just to pay for daily travel to university, at $8 per hour a student cabby has to work for 4 of the permitted 20 hours because the state government does not grant international students transport concessions.
Other expenses may include high migration fees for advice or visa extension.

And if their employers insist that they work hours that flout regulations or forego the job, the students are then left without a choice.

As the Times of India reported on 30 April, “…the majority of the drivers are students from India who work in the nights to repay their loans or pay their hefty fees. All this is apart from the rising rent and petrol prices. ‘If I do not drive taxi after classes, I will not be able to afford my fees. Life is tough in Australia for international students. I wish the Indian government steps in to support us,’ Dinesh Singh said. “

In 2004-05, 5110 national compliance field operations were conducted specifically to locate student visa breaches and over-stayers – a national average of 14 raids per day and 28% of all immigration raids.

Although overseas students, who are mainly from China and India, formed only about 8% of all visas granted in 2004, they constituted a disproportionate 33% of all visa cancellations, about 8000 per year. Students then become ’illegal non-citizens’.

Most who lose their visa are deported in disgrace back to their families. Without a completed degree in the Indian subcontinent, many have minimal means of repaying their parents, who may have undertaken massive education loans at high interest rates to pay expensive Australian education costs. The family suffers under huge economic and social stress. There are no known studies on the true impact.

However, any student who challenges the visa cancellation can be granted a bridging visa to live in the community (without work rights) while he tries to appeal. Yet because of Australia’s stringent immigration laws, a few have unfortunately ended up in immigration detention, particularly if they could not afford the cost of a $10,000 plus bond required as a surety.

From January 2001 to July 2005, 2,300 international students were detained for between a few days to many months. Reasons included breaching work conditions, inadequate attendance at education institutions, unsatisfactory academic performance, failure to commence course, overstaying a visa and withdrawal form study.

There is no independent board of review to assess student visa cancellations.
Appeals for reinstatement of student visas take time, sometimes a few months, but have low success rates in the Migration Review Tribunal.

Meanwhile detained students, neither tried nor convicted, have been charged $125-$225 per day for incarceration, under S.209 of the Migration Act. Australia is the only country to charge detainees for their imprisonment.
Whether in or out of detention, a student involved in an appeal process is basically subject to the same complex laws and regulations as asylum seekers – unknown and incomprehensible to most Australians – where legal advice is not automatically available to them as it is for citizens and residents. A border control mentality has created two legal systems.

“Australia’s recent approach to asylum seekers and refugees has been radical and degenerative in nature,” writes David Mann, co-ordinator and principal solicitor of the Human Rights Law Resource Centre. “[It] has created one of the toughest and most extensive anti-asylum seeker systems … from a human rights perspective, in many respects, the Western world’s worst practices.

“Over the last decade, we have witnessed the construction of a legal architecture in the Immigration area which ‘excised’ decision-making and other government conduct from the ordinary, mainstream Australian legal system. In many areas, this has involved legislative developments, which represent a radical departure from the well-established foundations of our legal system. Such principles include the application of the rule of law, access to legal advice, access to the Courts, habeas corpus, and anti-discrimination. There have been strenuous attempts by the Executive to expunge these principles from migration law.”

Perhaps this is the only explanation why one Indian student could be detained for two years during his appeal to finish his studies in Maribyrnong and Baxter Immigration Detention Centres, and billed $97,000. Yet another was charged $77,000 for eighteen months detention, ten of which he spent waiting for the former minister’s decision about his appeal.

These students preferred to endure draconian hardship rather than waste their parents’ major financial sacrifices.

A former Indian student cabby was just one subject short of completing a Master’s IT degree, when caught working extra hours to pay high legal fees to extend his visa. It was impossible to survive on the ‘no work or study’ bridging visa, so he had to earn, was caught again, and spent 12 months detained during a futile appeal that landed him with an $80,000 detention bill. His university did not refund fees paid in advance.

After deportation this well spoken, intelligent young man was too frightened to return to his family, not wanting to bring shame to them. He felt a social outcast. What has happened to him since? And to so many thousands other deported students?

Certainly immigration would have sent a detention bill reminder to his family address. Unless a re-payment plan is made, he cannot return to Australia.
Very few detention debts are waived according to the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s April 2008 report: “Of 3,568 debts raised in the last financial year only 10 were waived.”

In this student’s case, if the taxi industry had been fairly regulated and his wages equitable, he may have never had to endure this roller-coaster nightmare in desperate pursuit of some natural justice in the first place.

Although a majority of overseas students have overall satisfactory experiences in Australia, some must deal with unprofessional education providers, intent on getting big fees for low quality courses. But the law prevents disillusioned students from changing courses for one year, who are thus forced to waste their parents’ precious resources.

The most tragic case of despair and economic hardship was an Indian girl who, in 2006, chose to suicide by jumping in front of a train after failing her masters by three marks. Her college had refused to let her re-sit the exam unless she paid $2000 upfront – money she did not have.

International students generate a $7 billion plus industry, more than 20% of Australia’s tertiary education budget, that offsets progressive erosion of federal funding for education in the last decade. Universities and education institutions have to recruit intensively in Asia for new full fee paying students.

Unsurprisingly, some south Asian students feel subject to discrimination and used as part of a cash cow industry.

Based on research as a pro bona advocate, I wrote a submission for the Senate’s 2005 ‘Inquiry into the Administration and Operation of the Migration Act’ about the detention of international students, and the complex difficulties they face in Australia.

The Senate Legal Committee’s final report in 2006 criticized aspects of the tough, mandatory visa cancellation legislation for international students, and high rate of student visa cancellations. It recommended “that the Migration Act and Regulations be amended to allow for greater flexibility and discretion in dealing with breaches of the conditions of students visas.”

It also recommended a more compassionate, flexible administrative approach from immigration, which DIAC seems to be delivering. However few changes have been made to the law, but stricter requirements for education providers to offer better learning and support services have been introduced.

The cabbies’ revolt reveals just the surface of a Pandora’s box of many issues for international students brewing for a long time.

Therefore, the Federation of Indian Students Association’s proposed thorough information brochure to educate prospective and current students about available services, assistance and rights in Australia is a welcome and necessary initiative, deserving community and government support.
– South Asia Times (May 2008)

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  4. BC says:

    The West Australian 14/2/2011 page 11:
    Mr Suresh Rajan (former president of the Ethnic Communities Council) said he was worried about the number of complaints against Indian students who worked part-time as taxi drivers & believed cultural differences & sexual repression in Indian society played a big role in motivating sexual attacks on women in WA. “…given the number of incidents that have occurred (with Indian students) if we don’t nip this in the bud, it is going to get worse,” he said.
    Last week alone 3 Indian taxi drivers were charged with sexual assault of passengers.
    What the bad apples are doing is destroying the reputation of the Indian community that has been built up over years of migration to Australia.

  5. KA says:

    Listen Raj – yu said “But remember each time you get money from Government say it in form of centrelink payments or tax refunds, much of it is contributed by” – NOT STUDENTS FROM INDIA –

    It comes from the working Australians.

    You only have to look at the garbage that’s going on at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi to realise India is not a good place to live. It is overpopulated, and a mess. No wonder you want to come here.

    But we don’t need the mess from India. No thanks.

    The Reps from Aussie Universities are only wanting to make money from Indian students, and are ripping you people off.

    And don’t get me started on the outsourcing off jobs to Indian Call Centres. I can’t understand what they are saying most of the time. Taking jobs from Australians. Why don’t you stay in India? Fix the problems in your own country first. Don’t come here and fuck up our country.

  6. KA says:

    @pappu . . . I am not the only person with issues re Indians – read the other comments. Also, some lunatic from India had the gall to call John Howard “racist”. He is a decent human, and that comment was a slur and a disgrace. I have experienced the deceit as well from Indian taxi drivers. They all try to get more money from the customer – they turn on the meter before you get there with a fee that is only for customers who call for a cab. I have grabbed a cab from the street and seen this amount on the meter when it shouldn’t be there. And the meter is often placed so you can’t see it properly. They have no sense of customer relations – no service skills. Most of them grunt when you talk to them. The aussie drivers talk, are friendly, and down to earth. The Indians don’t talk, are often on their mobiles, and can’t drive.

    Enough said – the whole situation is a disgrace. Suffice to say, I have a couple of aussie drivers whom I ring when I need a cab, and it’s always a good experience.

    • harji says:

      hi KA,,,,,,I don’t want to say more abt Indian taxi driver,,,,I just want to say why your goverment allow to drive a taxi to Indian students?

  7. KA says:

    @pappu – Don’t call me an “arsehole”. The situation with Indian taxi drivers in Australia is untenible, and that is not questionable. As I said, if India is so great, why come here? There is a thing called Freedom of Speech in this country. You are a third world country, and have no idea about that.

    Come to this country with respect, then you will receive respect, arsehole.

    • raj says:

      i would appologise on behalf of my fellow Indian for offending you. But would like to request you to please check your comments before writing some crap here. We come here because many Reps from Aussie Universities come India and almost beg to come and join uni showing them big dreams and good life etc. Yes, we are overpopulated and dont have high standard of living as you got in Aussie, But remember each time you get money from Government say it in form of centrelink payments or tax refunds, much of it is contributed by So called third world Indian students who pay triple the amount of fees paid by a Aussie. And you are making a big fortune by ripping studnets

  8. pappu says:

    hold your tongue u asshole.. dont even dare to talk about india and indians..@KA -

  9. KA says:

    This story is very biased.

    We have too many Indians coming here; now you are complaining that it’s our fault? If India is so great, why do heaps of you come here and lower our standard of living. Public transport overcrowded with asians, a lot of taxi drivers are illegal immigrants and bleed the system, and a lot of them don’t even have a drivers license or cab license!. It’s a disgrace. I have a number I ring if I need a taxi – he is a good driver, and not a bloody Indian.

    Stay in India. That’d be great.

  10. gaballa says:

    I would like an Egyptian visa ATA drivers and holds a driver’s license

  11. Simon M says:

    I am sick of hearing that Indian students are complaining about being abused.
    I have close contact with taxi drivers on a daily basis. The Indian students are the worst drivers, and are generally unethical.
    They try to charge extra for toll fees that do not exist, and usually try to take passengers on the longer routes.
    Two weeks ago an indian driver was caught at Brisbane airport with his little mate in the boot! They were taking turns driving the cab…with a false license!
    Issues with Indian cabbies are constant. If I see an indian cabbie..I walk away, and find another cab… I will NOT be putting my life (or my hard earned money) at risk by dirty little thieves!

    • rajiv says:

      hello sir,
      i am sorry to hear about your bad experiences with Indian cabbies. But i would request you to not generalise things. I do know some Indian cabbies are big jerks and so are some aussies. you know what i mean, No one is too perfect anywhere.SO please take off visualizing things that all Indians are of same type

  12. sean mortimer says:

    Dear Sir,
    Indian student taxi drivers are not the only ones on $8 an hour. It’s not uncommen to got home after 12 hours work with $50-$60 and this is for a local driver with a wife and kids to support plus we have to pay tax and GST which the student drivers just don’t pay. They have abused and physically assaulted non-indian drivers for being on “their” ranks, they charge customers “toll fees” that don’t exist, they charge for airconditioning, for suitcases and surcharges for a Saturday night (which does not apply) They will not speak english infront of local drivers, refuse to abide by company policy and openly flout local laws and conditions of their visa. They use terms such as “all you white people stink”, “we will own your country in a few years”, “we have sex with your women” etc, but when we complain, the word “racist” is screamed all over the headlines. These people are ruining our livelyhood, reputation and industry and they couldn’t care less cause when their studies are complete they return home.If life is that difficult for them in Australia they at least have the option to leave, we don’t, we have to stay and try and salvage what’s left of an industry they are killing. This Sir is the truth of the matter, if you paper want’s to jump on the bleeding heart bandwagon and make us look like the bad guys, so be it, but the truth is the truth simple as that.