Understanding International Students' Professed Satisfaction with Underpaid Work in Australia
Underpayment of international students is widespread and systemic in several industries in Australia. Recent studies have concluded that most do not complain or take action to address the underpayment and have identified a number of reasons why this is the case. One reason that has not been explored is that a substantial number of international students have expressed surprisingly high rates of satisfaction with their wages or their overall work in Australia despite receiving wages well below the legal minimum. This article explores data from two empirical studies conducted by the authors in which this was the case. It posits a range of hypotheses that may explain the students’ professed satisfaction, drawing on other data from the surveys and elsewhere. If it is accepted that Australia should not have a de facto second-tier labour force of international students, the challenge for regulators, unions and others becomes how to detect and enforce underpayment if workers are ‘satisfied’ and will not come forward to report or challenge their conditions. Deeper understanding of the drivers of international student satisfaction may also provide some opportunities to dispel misconceptions and motivate international students to address or avoid poor conditions.