The first time international student Amy (not her real name) was sacked from a job was when she was too busy with her studies to work more than 20 hours per week as required by her boss late last year.
After going back to work for the same employer earlier this year, she was sacked a second time for asking to be paid penalty rates for working on a public holiday.
As a student on a temporary migrant visa, Amy, from South America, is legally only allowed to work 20 hours per week.
She said her boss required her to work between 40 to 50 hours per week in breach of her visa conditions.
"He fired me last year because I couldn't work all the hours he was giving me," she said.
After returning to work in April this year she requested that she be paid public holiday rates.
When she called the pay office, she was told her boss had directed the pay officer to pay normal rates on the public holiday.
"When I called him he said, OK, I am going to pay you but you will need to look for another job.
"I was like seriously? And he never paid me the holiday rate. I just got the normal rate."
After complaining about the experience on social media, her former employer called her and threatened to report her to migration officials if she refused to remove the post.
She called him back and said she was sure the Australian Taxation Office would be happy to hear from him because he paid international students cash in hand for more than 20 hours of work per week.
A new report, Wage Theft in Australia by University of NSW and UTS law academics Laurie Berg and Bassina Farbenblum found that almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of backpackers and 13 per cent of international students indicated they worked 21 hours per week or more.
Redfern Legal Centre offered Amy and many like her advice and says international students are a major source of revenue for universities and businesses and are widely exploited.
The centre provides the only free legal advice service for international students in NSW and says it is seeing an increasingly high caseload of international students with workplace exploitation issues. The centre's international student advice service is supported by StudyNSW.
The centre's international student solicitor, Sean Stimson, said many international students were too afraid to report these issues, for fear their visas will be cancelled if they have worked more than 40 hours per fortnight in breach of their student visa conditions.
"International students are often unaware of their employment rights in Australia, or see the treatment they receive as common among their peer group, making them more likely to accept poor working conditions," Mr Stimson said.
The Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James recently wrote an open letter to international students encouraging them to report workplace exploitation.
"I would like to reassure international students that in line with an agreement between my agency and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, you can seek our assistance without fear of your visa being cancelled, even if you've worked more hours than you should have under your visa," she said.
Mr Stimson said the Ombudsman's new protocol would provide additional comfort to international students.
Redfern Legal Centre has been lobbying for a new direction under section 499 of the Migration Act to provide international students with an amnesty to report exploitation without fear of losing their visa.
Mr Stimson said this would complement FWO's efforts to create an environment in which international students feel safe to report unscrupulous employers.
"This direction would instruct decision makers not to cancel a visa in certain circumstances where a student has breached the 40-hour-per-fortnight condition," he said.
"The direction would substitute warnings or appropriate penalties for visa cancellation for a first offence. This would offer students clearly defined protections, giving them the legal comfort they need to come forward and speak out about unfair and unlawful workplace practices."
A coalition of academics, lawyers, unions and social justice organisations have co-signed an open letter addressed to Professor Allan Fels, chair of the Migrant Worker Taskforce, calling for urgent legal reform including the new direction under section 499 of the Migration Act.
The letter has been co-signed by representatives from 13 organisations, including Redfern Legal Centre.
Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter. Her reports on inequity in schools funding led to the Gonski reforms and won her national awards. Her coverage of health exposed unnecessary patient deaths at Campbelltown Hospital and led to judicial and parliamentary inquiries. At The Times of London, she exposed flaws in international medical trials.