The Land of Milk and Honey? An Investigation into the Working Experiences of International Students in New Zealand
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Labour markets within New Zealand, as with other similar economies, have overcome labour shortages through worker migration schemes, seasonal work programmes, or limited entitlements to work. However, significant numbers of migrant workers congregate at the periphery of the labour market, located in tedious or hazardous positions with little regulatory oversight, cursory supervision, and poor remuneration (Anderson, Jamieson, & Naidu, 2012; Burgess & Campbell, 1998; Howells, 2011, Sargeant & Tucker, 2009). While research on contingent labour has increased, an ignored area of investigation concerns international students arriving on educational visas and pursuing employment while studying. Extant research has primarily concentrated either on the working experiences of migrants (Anderson, 2010; Jayaweera & Anderson, 2009; Hawthorne, 2005; Parutis, 2014) or the educational experiences of international students (Andrade, 2006; Curtis & Shani, 2002; Guidry Lacina, 2002). The key question, therefore, is what are the working experiences of international student workers for New Zealand? Three phases of data collection covered a literature review of both public and private sources, and two interview methods. Given the difficulties of researching vulnerable workers, the research design adopted a mixed method approach, using a questionnaire survey, semi-structured face-to-face interviews with both stakeholders and international student workers. More specifically, a survey of international students from public and private tertiary education establishments was undertaken and a sample interviewed. Opinions of key stakeholders from relevant government agencies and industry were also sought. The methods drew together 483 survey participants, interviewed 11 international students, and 15 Key Stakeholders. From the research five themes emerged. Characteristics of international students such as age and ethnicity were found to influence their labour market outcomes. Second, the link between education and work was vital, both as the conduit to enter New Zealand, and as a potential employer or labour market feeder. Further, education institute type and qualification levels influenced job quality and opportunity for transition - but not as much as expected. This finding is linked to the third key theme: how employment terms and conditions for international students may make them a vulnerable migrant worker. The fourth theme explores the role of protective mechanisms to mitigate the exploitation of international students. The final theme highlights the role of the ILO and its Decent Work programme, finding that limitations in its influence and reach has meant that many international students do not transition to better work in New Zealand. Finally, this study contributes to theoretical development by reconceiving models related to international students working, looking from a macro approach of factors measuring worker precariousness and occupational health and safety (OHS), to a micro approach of job quality measurement. It also contributes to the debate on policies and practices for working international students by focusing on the multiple factors that influence the status of contingent workers in New Zealand.