Uncertain future for International Student Legal Advice Clinic

INTERNATIONAL students are in danger of losing a vital legal service as the State Government dallies over its decision to fund Melbourne’s only international student legal aid centre. Luke Henriques-Gomes reports.

The International Student Legal Advice Clinic operates out of the Salvation Army's international student centre The Couch on Bourke St. Photo: Luke-Henriques Gomes

Melbourne’s only international student legal aid centre fears it may have to close its doors after celebrating its third birthday last week.

The International Student Legal Advice Clinic (ISLAC) said the Victorian state government had not committed to funding the clinic next year.

It will cost the government $350,000 to keep ISLAC’s doors open.

In a statement to Meld, the State Government said the allocation of funding to individual community legal centres would be decided by Victoria Legal Aid.

“Victoria Legal Aid is continuing to work with ISLAC and others on the best way to ensure the ongoing availability of legal advice and assistance for international students,” the State Government said in its statement.

ISLAC coordinator Emel Ramadan remained hopeful about securing next year’s funding, but said if the centre was forced to close, international students would not receive adequate legal services.

She said students came to ISLAC for help with a variety of legal matters, with the main issues being employment, tenancy and migration.

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“A lot of students have disputes with their colleges or with employment, it’s about not being paid, unfair conditions, not receiving any entitlements,” she said.

Ms Ramadan said international students required a dedicated legal service.

“The problem is (places such as community legal centres) don’t have migration agents, they don’t have lawyers who understand what the issues are for international students,” she said.

“The lawyers might not be aware that if a student works over 40 hours a fortnight, they will be deported.”

Opposition spokesman Martin Pakula said it was important for international students that ISLAC continues to operate.

“International students make an enormous contribution to the state, to the economy, giving them some legal support is only right and just,” Mr Pakula said.

“The government likes to make a big song and dance about how supportive they are of international students, the best way for them to show that is for them to fund this centre.”

ISLAC is run by the Western Suburbs Legal Aid Service together with the Salvation Army who allows the clinic to use their international student space, The Couch.

ISLAC. An interactive legal education session in progress at The Couch. Photo: Aun Ngo

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Brendan Nottle from the Salvation Army said they would continue to support ISLAC wherever possible.

“A lot of the students we see are very vulnerable and very isolated and we have an absolute obligation to help them,” he said.

ISLAC lawyer Toola Marcou said it was important international students take up the fight to save the centre as well.

“If (the government) sees us asking for the funding, they say we just want our jobs,” she said.

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