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Seven university students, who paid upto AUD 6,500 to Absolute Internship for internships with companies in Singapore, were allegedly left stranded, after they discovered the company had not arranged for their mandatory work visas.
The investigation, conducted by Josie Taylor of the ABC, has sparked a review of paid overseas internships in Australia.
The students, reported the ABC, had paid Hong Kong-based Absolute Internship for their internship programme and accommodation, but were caught unaware once they arrived in Singapore to start their programmes.
ABC spoke to Caroline Mackay, 20, student at the University of Western Australia, who paid about $3,000 for a one-month internship in Singapore including weekend activities, accommodation, networking events and visas.
“Hardly any of those things were given to us,” she said.
On her fourth day at work, she reported her company saying: “Sorry, Caroline you can’t work with us anymore, Absolute Internship has not organised your working visa,” adding that she was “left extremely distressed”.
Mackay reportedly flew back to Australia without completing her internship. She asked for a refund but said Absolute Internship refused.
Gozoop, the marketing company that took on Mackay, confirmed to the ABC it was forced to terminate the internship because it was illegal to allow her to work without a visa.
Another student, Freya Hirshman, from the University of NSW, spoke to the ABC from her three-star hotel room in Singapore, where she was sharing a room with a stranger despite Absolute Internship’s website promoting “exclusive housing”.
“It’s just ridiculous considering we were shown all these pictures of this huge spacious room … and also we’d get a kitchen, but we didn’t,” she told the ABC.
Hirshman also reportedly asked Absolute Internship for a partial refund for services she paid for but did not receive, but she said the company refused.
Another 19-year-old student, who wished to remain anonymous, said he lodged a formal complaint with the Singaporean police about Absolute Internship, at which point the company threatened legal action if he did not withdraw his complaint, reported the ABC.
In an email, Absolute Internship wrote:
“Our legal advisers … have advised us to take legal action against you.
“We are now expecting you to either change your attitude, cancel your complaint and agree to sign a dismissal warning document, or continue with your attitude and dismissal.”
The University of NSW, the University of Queensland and the University of Western Australia all told the ABC they were aware of concerns raised by their students in Singapore and were reviewing their relationships with Absolute Internship.
Absolute Internship did not respond to the request for a comment on the situation.
Read more about the investigation by the ABC here.