Home » The plight of a French international student in Australia

The plight of a French international student in Australia

by  Africa Media Australia

Born in Guadeloupe, one of the French departments located in the Caribbean Sea, Gabriel (his name has been changed) dreamed of living in Australia from a very young age. He was fascinated by what he learned about both the land and the people of Australia. So, when he got the chance to come and study in Australia, he immediately jumped on it.

He arrived in Perth WA in 2016 and fell in love with the place. He wanted to do everything he could to be able to finish his studies successfully. He also hoped that, after completing his studies, he could get a chance to apply for and obtain permanent residency status to start a new life down under.

The first two years of Gabriel’s stay in Australia went well without any incident, but from 2018 things started to take a strange turn. Over the years, he met a lot of people in Perth, but quite a few of them, as described in the following paragraphs, have been rather unhelpful to him as their behaviours, actions or lack of assistance have turned his life down under into a nightmare.



Issues with a car dealer in Jandakot in Perth

In January 2018, Gabriel bought a car at a local dealership, CARGIANT in Jandakot, Perth. The car was still on the manufacturer’s warranty and he intended to use it for business, as a driving instructor, to support himself financially.

Two weeks after getting the car, he noticed a fault with it and took it back to the car dealership. The dealer claimed it could not identify the problem. Gabriel couldn’t do anything at the time but he later noticed that the car’s logbook included two invoices from the previous owner, which indicated that there were previous defects with the vehicle.  He went to see the dealer again to show him the evidence, but he did not receive much assistance.

Gabriel also noticed that the details on the invoices he received from the dealer indicated that the dealer’s own mechanics had previously identified a problem with the vehicle’s diesel particles filter, but nothing was done to attend to the issue.  He then raised the matter with the dealer on multiple occasions, but the dealer refused to repair the vehicle properly.

Gabriel later contacted Consumer Protection (services) and was told that the car dealer was ready to repair the car if he could find the issue.

Few months later, an independent mechanic confirmed that the car’s diesel particles filter and the clutch were definitely faulty, but Gabriel was unable to afford the repairs. He was forced to sell his car and, as a result of these issues, he lost over one-year income, given that he was unable to start his business.

An unhelpful lawyer

 Gabriel contracted a local lawyer at Cullen MacLeod in Nedlands, Perth, in his attempt to get help with the car dealer’s matter. The lawyer initially told him that there was strong evidence supporting his case and if the dealer did not resolve the issue amicably, he would take the matter to court. However, after the dealer refused to negotiate, the lawyer sent Gabriel an email and told him that his case was “legally complicated”. At the time, the lawyer had already charged him quite a bit of money and Gabriel had accepted to pay the fees based on the initial assessment given to him and the hope that he had strong chances to win the case in court.

Gabriel later found out that the lawyer had mishandled his case. He lodged a complaint against the lawyer with the Legal Profession Complaints Committee in Perth and their investigation outcome confirmed that the lawyer had overcharged him. That same lawyer initially failed to send the statement of claims to the Magistrates’ court and Gabriel also noticed that the statement of claims that the lawyer sent to him had missed a number of essential information in it.

Gabriel eventually took the lawyer to court, hoping to recover some of the fees he had previously paid to him. Unfortunately, on the day of the hearing, the French interpreter that he requested did not show up and the judge refused to postpone the hearing. His case was dismissed and he was quite disappointed that despite giving quite strong evidence to the judge to support his case, he could not get justice. As a result, he ended up losing over $6000 in relation to his dealings with the lawyer.


Issues with a car rental company 

Gabriel’s misfortune did not end with the above two cases. He rented a car from Northside Rentals, a local car rental company in Welshpool, Perth. He needed a car to be able to work as a rideshare driver.

In late 2019, he had an accident and the car was written off. Although he was not at fault, the rental company told him that he had to pay excess fees in order for him to be given another rental car. He first refused to pay as it was clear to him that he was not at fault, but given that he needed a car to earn income, he paid $1000 excess to the rental company and signed an extended rental agreement, hoping that he would later be refunded that fee once the two insurance companies involved in the case had communicated and processed the insurance claims related to the accident.

It took a very long time for the car rental company to refund Gabriel the excess charges he had previously paid. Additionally, soon after the refund was given to him, he noticed that the car rental company was trying to get him to cancel his car rental agreement. He did not understand why.

Furthermore, during the first wave of the COVID 19 crisis, Gabriel learned that many other rideshare drivers who were renting cars from the same company were receiving a 50% discount off their rental costs, because of the low revenue in the industry during that crisis period. He approached the company and asked about the discount, but the company refused to give him.

In March 2021, the car rental company refused to give him back his rental car after he took it for a scheduled service. He later received an email with a notice of exclusion for « abusive and threatening behaviours ». The email had a mention « without prejudice ».

Gabriel explained to the manager that the mention « without prejudice » could only be applied in the context of a conciliation procedure between the two parties involved in a dispute and in his case there was no conciliation. He tried hard to resolve the matter amicably with the company, but all to no avail. He was unable to work and earn an income without a car and he lodged a complaint with the Small BusinessDevelopment Corporation against the company. But for unknown reasons, the rental car company never responded to his complaint and he was unable to work for 2 months. Gabriel says he lost over $25,000 in relation to this matter.


A small incident with a police officer got out of control 

In September 2020, Gabriel came in contact with the police, while working as a rideshare driver. The officer who spoke to him addressed him quite rudely in relation to what was a minor issue of incorrect stationing. He explained to the officer that he was an international student working hard trying to earn some income and support himself in Australia. During the interaction with the police, he requested the badge number of the police officer, but in the process, he ended up being assaulted to a point where he feared for his life.

One month later, he received a letter from Fremantle Court in Perth, notifying him of criminal charges laid against him by WA police. He made a request to access the footage of the incident along with the incident report from the city of Fremantle, but the footage that was sent to him was not complete and only showed part of his interactions with the police. He was expecting to receive a video showing the full incident that had occurred on that day from the beginning to the end, but this did not happen, despite having paid money to access these records.

Gabriel subsequently made more than 20 requests to access the full video, along with the incident report and the bodycam footage (from police), but all to no avail. The only luck he had for the first time since he arrived in Australia was when the judge dismissed the case in court on the day of the hearing and the charges against him were all dropped.


A diploma course filled with many obstacles

Gabriel enrolled for a diploma in early childhood education and care with Australian Learning Group (ALG) to increase his chances to obtain a permanent residency status in Australia. While doing the course at ALG, his teacher addressed him in ways that were often disrespectful and discriminatory. Before starting his work placement in May 2020, Gabriel’s teacher also sent him the wrong work placement form, which he saw as a way to harass him. The work placement form that he received indicated that he was being asked to do placement at a childcare centre that all students were complaining about in 2019. It was a Childcare centre that had actually been previously removed from the list of childcare centres provided by the school to the students.

When Gabriel started his placement at South Lake Early Learning Centre (SLELC), he asked the supervisor on site to enable him to work with a child with special needs, as this was a requirement for the placement. The supervisor told him on several occasions that there was no child with special needs at the centre and he needed to speak to his teacher at ALG, but the teacher kept sending him back to the supervisor. Such incidents continued to occur and in the end everything that was happening at both the school and the childcare centre took quite a toll on Gabriel’s emotional wellbeing. As a result, he became unable to continue with the work placement and finalise his (course) report on time, because of the high level of stress that he had to endure.

Gabriel asked for an extension, but his teacher refused to grant him one. Also, he was very surprised that the same teacher who had refused to mark him satisfactory for one activity had later told 3 of his (Caucasian) classmates that they could copy and paste each other’s work (10 activities) during their work placement. Furthermore, he felt that his teacher had continued to harass and racially discriminate him during his wok placement as well. It was also clear to him that his Caucasian classmate who was in the same center as him was not experiencing the sort of issues he was going through and he was able to obtain his diploma without any problem.

Given that he had evidence to support this allegation he made a formal complaint through the school’s internal processes, but the complaint was rejected and so was the ensuing appeal. He later realised that his complaint and the related internal appeal were investigated by the same person, the school manager, who was both judge and party in the matter, which was contrary to the school’s Complaints and Appeals Policybased on the documents the school previously provided to him.

In January 2021, the school later offered to place him at a new childcare centre, but he was told he had to pay more than $3500 to redo the work placement. He thought that the offer was not fair, given everything that had happened.

The whole saga with the school ended up not just costing Gabriel a lot of money, but it also wasted a lot of time and caused him to experience an acute level of stress that affected him for a long period of time. He says he is still copying with the stress from his experiences at that school to date.


No luck with the Australian Human Rights Commission 

As Gabriel was unimpressed with what was going on at the Australian Learning Group, he contacted the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), as a last resort to seek a resolution for the issues he was experiencing. He lodged a complaint against Australian Learning Group and his teacher, the South Lake Early Learning Centre and his centre supervisor for harassment and racial discrimination.

The AHRC notified Gabriel in November 2020 that it had accepted all his four complaints, but in May 2021 he received a call from the investigator advising him that there was insufficient evidence to support his allegations against the parties involved. Gabriel requested to be formally notified in writing about that conclusion, but didn’t receive anything. However, August 30, 2021 the AHRC notified Gabriel that his complaint against Australian Learning Group was terminated.

On October 13, 2021, AHRC sent to Gabriel the south Lake Early Learning Centre’s response with his preliminary assessment. Gabriel should have received the response from South Lake Early Learning Centre with a response time before receiving the preliminary assessment.

On December 2, 2021, AHRC terminated its investigation against South Lake Early Learning Centre and its supervisor and the Australian Learning Group’s teacher.

To date Gabriel did not receive any response from his teacher and centre supervisor.

He does not understand why the AHRC could not properly investigate these matters, despite having initially accepted the complaints formally. He also noticed that, without explanation the AHRC has decided to remove harassment from his complaint.

Gabriel says he does not understand why, being an international student with a course that needed to be completed within a specific timeframe; AHRC did not consider his complaints as urgent. An urgent processing of his complaint could have enabled him to obtain a speedy resolution and be able to complete his course or consider other suitable alternatives in a timely manner.

On July 21, 2021 the AHRC sent him an email advising that it would attempt to initiate a conciliation process in relation his complaint. However, for unknown reasons the conciliation did not occur and he received no further explanation or correspondence from AHRC regarding the proposed conciliation. While he was waiting to hear from AHRC about his complaints he lost a lot of time. In the meantime, all his classmates were able to complete their diploma course successfully at ALG and started their work experience in order to apply for permanent residency in Australia.


Lessons to learn? 

Gabriel is adamant he has been unfairly treated and discriminated against and he has plenty of evidence to back his claims. As a result of the issues he went through, he believes he has definitely lost the opportunity to apply for and obtain his permanent residency status, despite all his efforts for more than 5 years in Australia.   Also, despite his best efforts to find a lawyer, no one wanted to represent him

Thousands of international students come to Australia every year and Gabriel’s story raises a lot of questions about the way international students are treated in this country. Over recent years there has been a marked increase in the number of stories in Australian media about international students being exploited, mistreated or discriminated against in various ways. In response to such incidents, the Victorian state government recently set up Study Melbourne, a government-funded entity to provide support to international students. They have recognised the need to do more to assist overseas students experiencing difficulties of different nature during their stay in Australia. However, if the Victorian government has acted in this space, this is not yet the case in the rest of the states.

Gabriel’s story should lead us all to reflect on the plight of some international students in various parts of the country. One might wonder how many overseas students might be in the same situation like Gabriel and how many may have left Australia too early and not be able to add more value to this country, simply because they have given up on their dream to complete their studies and be eligible for permanent residency? If the Australian federal government wants to continue to attract more students from overseas, given the financial and intellectual wealth they bring in the country, there is a need to provide more assistance in line with what the Victorian government has started doing in Melbourne. The immigration department might also need to show more compassion in processing visa requirements for individual students such as Gabriel who have endured a lot and might be forced to leave Australia, because they are no longer able to extend their visas or apply for permanent residency.


You may also like