International students’ rights: it’s time for change

Image via map.my

Image via map.my

It’s a little known fact but an important one: there are more people arriving into Australia as temporary migrants than there are recently arrived permanent migrants. As of December 2015 there were over 1 million people living in Australia on temporary visas, compared to about 190,000 migrants who settled in the country as part of the 2014-2015 Migration Program.

Statistics also show that more than 40% of new permanent migrants are not so ‘foreign’, ‘international’, or ‘temporary’ at all and have already been in the country under some type (or in many cases, other types) of visas for several years. Many have successfully overcome the challenges of precariousness in order to secure permanency and stability. But at what cost? The answers are strikingly clear if we take the case of international students.

Since last recorded (December last year), there were about 352,000 immigrants on student and temporary graduate visas. That’s almost twice that of our total yearly permanent migrant intake. You would think that, given their numbers, they must by living it up in Australia: enjoying all the privileges, advantages and benefits of a student on an international holiday. Not so. Despite the negative stereotypes of cashed up international students stealing jobs, there is actually more evidence that shows temporary residency status can impact negatively on international students’ health and wellbeing.

While all students face the mounting expenses related to education, as well as the general cost of living, international students also face exploitation in employment and accommodation, and experience social isolation, racism and discrimination. International student’s situation is only worsened by their temporary visa status, which limits their access and entitlement to services and support.

It’s now four years since the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) first articulated the human rights of international students and more than five years since MCWH first identified the challenges female international students face in relation to accessing equitable pregnancy-related care. During this time, after four changes of prime minister, the precarious situation for international students, particularly those who find themselves pregnant in the first 12 months of arrival, remains unchanged.

Why are we struggling to uphold international students’ human rights? A recent review of the AHRC’s Principles to promote and protect the human rights of International Students suggested that the challenge can arise because human rights principles are seen to be too broad to advocate for change.

We can rise to this challenge. MCWH’s advocacy position on advancing the rights of international students to pregnancy-related care is practicable and specific: remove the 12 month waiting period for pregnancy-related care from the terms of the Overseas Student Health Cover Deed, so that international students can access equitable and affordable sexual and reproductive health care whenever it is needed. It’s not the only step, but a first step to eliminating discrimination against female international students and their partners.

Healthy Lives, Healthy Futures Project Success

 

Healthy Lives Healthy Futures Project

This week MCWH and Turning Point celebrated the success of the Healthy Lives, Healthy Futures project after 2 years of working together with 6 fabulous ethno-specific organisations focusing on youth:  Arabic Welfare; Australian Vietnamese Women’s Association; Australian Federation of International Students; Centre for Multicultural Youth; New Hope Foundation; and Southern Ethnic Advisory and Advocacy Council. The half day celebration was an exciting opportunity to share experiences and results.

Together, we have delivered over 55 education sessions, including community events, youth camps and radio broadcasts. We’ve reached over 1200 participants across Victoria, both men and women, parents and children. Sessions have been delivered in 6 languages and to over 26 different cultural groups including a large number of international students.

Overall, participants have responded positively to alcohol information, sharing their personal stories, asking lots of questions and engaging in activities. Key themes that emerged across sessions include limited alcohol and other drug literacy, family breakdown and alcohol related violence. Different cultural perspectives on alcohol use and misuse, as well as key factors influencing the use of alcohol have also been identified.

The feedback from the day was that Healthy Lives Healthy Futures has been an excellent starting point for reducing alcohol-related harm in young people and, we hope, will be the beginning of more collaborative partnerships.

Check out our Healthy Lives Healthy Futures animation here.

RU486: where to from here?

The government’s decision to list mifepristone and misoprostol (RU486) on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) should be seen as victory in the battle for women’s right to choose.  Women now have the option, during the seven weeks’ gestation period, of choosing a safe, less-invasive medical termination. But as with all things that have been long-awaited and hard-fought, we shouldn’t feel complacent. A victory for all women? It should be. So, in the interest of ensuring RU486’s availability lives up to its potential we take a good hard look at the fine print accompanying such a milestone achievement.

Its listing on the PBS means the cost of the drug will drop down from $300 to $36, which is reasonably affordable for most women. But what about the women who are not eligible for Medicare and are therefore not eligible to claim for PBS-listed items? Immigrant women on temporary migrant visas such as international students and temporary 457 workers will continue to pay the full cost for RU486 for the first twelve months after their arrival, unless they are paying for a level of private health insurance which includes pregnancy related health care with no waiting period. So if you don’t have plans to get pregnant immediately (in which case you probably wouldn’t need it) chances are you won’t have the cover needed to make RU486 affordable. In our work advocating for international students’ access to pregnancy-related care, we’ve learned that over 70% of insurance claims in the first twelve months are ‘pregnancy-related’. Whether the claims are related to contraception; termination; or child-birth is anyone’s guess because this data is not publicly available.

Which brings us to another critical factor in RU486 being made available and accessible to all: the need for comprehensive and systematic collection of abortion statistics. If we don’t know the extent of what is happening to whom and why, then it makes it difficult to monitor the safety, quality and equity of access to abortion. Some groups of immigrant and refugee women, for example, are more at risk of adverse sexual and reproductive health outcomes than Australian-born women. A national abortion register would assist in designing and evaluating targeted health promotion programs.

The availability of RU486 spans complex territory and no doubt, it will continue to attract controversy and debate (for starters, how might we regulate conscientious objection?). But now that we’ve come this far our efforts should continue to sit squarely with the health and wellbeing of all women. Addressing barriers to access for women who are marginalised or disadvantaged by ethnicity, visa status, disability and/or socio-economic factors is a good place to start.

We’ve just released a Position Paper about International Students’ Access to Pregnancy-Related Care and why the laws around Overseas Students’ Health Coverage need to be amended.

Position Paper on International Student Access to Pregnancy-Related Care

Through the On Your Own research project we undertook in 2011 with international students in Melbourne, we found that the minimum requirements of the Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) Deed pose significant obstacles to female international students who fall pregnant unintentionally. Through further consultation with services and students across Australia, we have found that this is an issue that affects international students nation-wide and has already led to detrimental health outcomes for some women. Our new position paper outlines the reasons why the OSHC deed needs to be changed, and points to wider issues for international student health. We believe that the issue creates further ambiguity about the rights of international students to access health services and could potentially contribute to misunderstandings in health service delivery settings.

Our position has been endorsed by over 20 organisations and we encourage you to read it, talk about it and pass it on.

You can read and download the paper here.