When the coronavirus pandemic wiped out other job opportunities, international student Andres Puerto decided to withdraw his superannuation and put the money into a bike hire business.
But when he went to do so, the money wasn’t there.
“I don’t have much money because it’s a new business and starting off is very hard, even more for students, but I’m lucky because I have some savings,” he told AAP.
“It’s not only about the money. It’s also about the feeling of being robbed.”
He tried to follow up with his former employer but they didn’t acknowledge his attempts to make contact.
All up, he estimates he’s owed $3000 in superannuation payments.
Mr Puerto’s story is not uncommon among students who pay big fees to come to Australia and work on the side to cover living expenses.
International student support services say there has been an increased number of people coming to them for help in chasing up unpaid superannuation during the pandemic.
Students in Australia on temporary visas missed out on most of the federal government’s coronavirus support measures but those who had been in the country more than a year were allowed early access to their superannuation in two payments of up to $10,000.
Support organisation Sydney Community Forum started hearing almost straight away from students finding their superannuation had never been paid.
“The lack of super has devastated these students because they thought they could fall back on that only to realise it was never paid,” executive officer Asha Ramzan told AAP.
“There’s this incredible arrogance from employers.”
The Migrant Employment Legal Service at Redfern Legal Centre says it has provided help to hundreds of migrant workers and international students over the past few months.
A joint UNSW and UTS study published in early July found more than three-quarters of international students were earning less than the minimum casual wage.
Despite this, nearly two-thirds didn’t seek any help, suffering in silence because of worries about their visas or losing their job.
Mr Puerto said he had many friends in the same situation who were too afraid to speak out.
“Their employers say to them you shouldn’t say anything, I will tell migration, and they fear,” he said.
But he hopes that by speaking up he can help others know their rights and not end up ripped off.
Ms Ramzan said the lack of knowledge created an underclass of workers.
“The whole economy is based on their exploitation, it just absolutely guts me,” she said.