Australian Institute of Criminology

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Executive summary

With the growth in global student mobility, almost three million students travel to English-speaking countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, in pursuit of tertiary education. The number of international students in Australia has grown substantially since 2005—this is attributed to the establishment of private sector Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses. It is now the case that more than 300,000 international student visas are currently granted each year to enable foreign nationals to study within Australia. As a result, the international education sector has become the third largest export industry in Australia, generating approximately $18.3b per annum in recent years. The sector also plays a critical role in fostering stronger international links and developing diverse skills in Australia and overseas.

In 2009 and 2010, a series of media reports of crimes against Indian international students led to growing concern over the safety of international students in Australia.

In response to these concerns, and the lack of existing police data to quantify the size of the problem, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) in consultation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), sought ways to quantify the nature and extent to which Indian students were the victims of crime compared with other international student groups and the Australian population.

This report represents the culmination of the AIC’s research into crimes against international students. Using administrative and pre-existing survey data sources, detailed findings are provided from what is the most comprehensive student victimisation study conducted to date, based on an analysis of DIAC international student visa records for more than 400,000 students matched with police crime victimisation records. In addition, supplementary analysis of the AIC’s National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) database, as well as the Australian component of the 2004 International Crime Victimisation Survey (ICVS), are used to provide additional context to the AIC’s investigation.

Primarily, this research was designed to provide the best available estimation of the extent to which international students have been the victims of crime during their time in Australia and a determination of whether international students are more or less likely than an Australian comparison population to have experienced crime. While the study has also provided some evidence of some of the factors that may increase the risk for student victimisation, the nature of the available data does not enable specific analysis of racial motivation. This is because policing databases do not consistently collect motivation data for all offences reported or investigated. Determining the motivation for offending would best be achieved by the development and implementation of a large-scale crime victimisation survey of international students and other Australian migrant populations more broadly.

Analysis of crimes against international students in Australia


The AIC assessed a range of pre-existing datasets to inform this project, with limited success. Several surveys of relevance were identified including the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Crime Victimisation Survey and the ABS General Social Survey. However, analysis of data from ABS sources was limited by an inability to narrow country of birth data to persons born in India (a focus population for this study) due either to issues relating to survey design and/or confidentiality.

Supplementary examination of data from the AIC’s NHMP found that of the eight Indian students killed since 1990, none involved racial vilification or discrimination. Analysis of the Australian component of the 2004 International Crime Victims Survey produced no evidence of significantly increased reporting of personal victimisation by overseas-born students compared with Australian-born students. However, small sample numbers and a failure to capture the range of factors that might influence reporting and the risk factors for victimisation meant that the role of racial motivation and many other factors that might affect the prevalence of crimes against overseas born students were unable to be investigated further.

Overall, the AIC determined that there was neither administrative nor victimisation survey data in existence that could provide adequate information about the extent of recorded crime against Indian and other international student populations studying in Australia, nor could existing data assist in identifying whether the rate of victimisation of international students was higher than the rate of victimisation of Australian students or a comparable Australian population. With the support of state and territory police agencies and DIAC, the AIC developed a study to estimate the extent to which international students were victims of crime, based on the matching of names and dates of birth from student visa information held by DIAC against police victim records.

Data was analysed for student visa holders from the five countries with the largest student populations living in Australia between 2005 and 2009—India, the People’s Republic of China, Republic of Korea (South Korea), the United States and Malaysia.

A total of 496,902 individuals were identified in the DIAC database. Of these 445,615 (90%) were primary applicants (ie seeking to study at an Australian institution). Australian state and territory jurisdictional analysis of student visa holders was made possible using the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS) identification number.

Of the 445,615 primary applicants with a known CRICOS number, 35 percent were listed as studying in New South Wales, 34 percent in Victoria, 15 percent in Queensland, seven percent in both South Australia and Western Australia, two percent in the Australian Capital Territory, one percent in Tasmania and less than one percent in the Northern Territory.

Once identified, student visa data from DIAC was matched with each Australian state and territory police agency’s crime victim data. A de-identified dataset of victims was then provided to the AIC and analysed.

The initial database contained 23,732 victimisation records for all possible offence types. Of these records, a proportion were later identified as ineligible for inclusion in the final analysis. This was mostly a result of duplicate records or records that were incorrectly selected during the application of Soundex in the matching process. Further, some records were for offence types (disorderly conduct, breaches, traffic and driving offences) which could not be reasonably counted as incidents of victimisation based soley on the offence description alone. These incidents were excluded from the analysis. Finally, a number of offence types (eg sex and fraud offences) were excluded because sample sizes and offence numbers were insufficient to conduct reliable comparative analysis at a jurisdictional level. Of the remaining data, three key offence types—assault, robbery and other theft—were chosen for comparative analysis. In all, the final database contained 13,204 unique victims (3% of all students) who reported a total of 14,855 records of assault (n=3,201), robbery (n=3,206) and other theft (n=8,440).

Experience of assault

National comparisons of assault data are not provided in this report as assault data is not collected or recorded consistently between the jurisdictions, thereby significantly limiting the reliability of cross-jurisdictional comparisons. The findings for assault, including the number of identified episodes of victimisation as well as the estimated rates per 1,000 of the population are provided separately for each jurisdiction in the chapters that follow.

Overall, international students from the five source countries generally experienced incidents of physical assault at significantly lower rates than in the general population in each state/territory jurisdiction in 2009. This was true for most nationalities in most jurisdictions and was a generally consistent finding for each year since 2005. In some cases, comparisons between students from different countries showed that for some years, in some jurisdictions, Indian students had experienced higher rates of assault than students from China, Korea, Malaysia and the United States.

Nature of assault

The nature of assaults (day of week, time of day and location) experienced by international students was generally consistent between students of different nationalities and the reference Australian populations. The notable exception was that a greater proportion of male Indian students were assaulted in commercial (retail) locations and in, or near, public transport facilities.


Combined data for all jurisdictions illustrated that between 2005 and 2009, two in every five assaults (42%) of international students, occurred in an unspecified location on the street or in the open space. A further 21 percent occurred at a residential location, 12 percent at a commercial (retail) location and 10 percent at a commercial (hospitality and entertainment) location. The latter category includes, among other things, hotels, motels, nightclubs and restaurants. Further, approximately one in 10 incidents was recorded at, or in connection with, public transport facilities. This profile of assault is generally consistent with the profile of assault for the Australian general population.

There were a few notable differences evident between students from different countries. Indian male students, for example, were more likely to have been assaulted at a commercial (retail) location (16%) compared with Chinese (9%), Malaysian (9%), Korean (4%) and US students (4%). Similarly, Indian male students were more likely to have been assaulted on or around public transport facilities (12%) compared with Korean (4%), Chinese (5%), US (4%), or Malaysian students (2%). Conversely, Indian students had proportionally fewer residential assaults compared with Chinese students.

Temporal pattern

As with location, it was also possible to profile assaults against international students by examining the time of day and day of week on which the assaults took place. For all international students who were assaulted between 2005 and 2009, most were assaulted in the evening hours midnight and 4 am (31%) and between 8 pm and midnight (29%). Relatively few assaults occurred during the daytime hours between 8 am and 4 pm (15%) and the distribution of assaults across the week was relatively even, if not slightly skewed towards the weekend.

There was no notable difference between students from different countries in the distribution of incidents across the week. While no nationally comparative data on time of day and day of week of assaults is available, crime statistics published for Victoria were used as a comparison; these statistics presented a similar temporal pattern for assaults.

Experience of robbery

While persons or organisations can be the victims of robbery, the analysis for international students in the present study was focused on persons (not organisations); therefore, the rates of robbery were calculated based on the number of incidents for which an individual was the victim of robbery. Thus, the difference in rates of robbery between international students and the Australian jurisdictional data may actually be larger than those presented in this report.

In 2009, the rate of robbery victimisation among male Indian students in some jurisdictions was higher than the corresponding state average for the reference Australian population—a finding that was consistent for most years since 2005. Chinese male students were also at higher risk of victimisation compared with state averages in some jurisdictions, as were Indian female students.

Location of robbery

Like assault, the nature of robbery was generally consistent between the countries and followed patterns consistent with the general Australian population. For international students between 2005 and 2009:

  • almost two in every three robberies (63%) occurred in an unspecified location on the street or in an open space;
  • eighteen percent occurred at a commercial (retail) location;
  • nine percent on or near public transport; and
  • four percent at a residential location.

Robberies recorded against Indian students were significantly more likely (25%) to have occurred in commercial (retail) locations and more detailed analysis found that of these cases, almost two in three occurred at service/petrol stations.

By comparison, only 12 percent of Chinese students who were robbed at a commercial location were robbed at a service or petrol station; Chinese students were more likely than Indian students to have been robbed at a shop or store (39% cf 12%) and slightly more likely to have been robbed at a 24 hour convenience store (17% cf 12%).

Temporal pattern

On examining the temporal factors for the robbery of international students, patterns were consistent with what is known of robbery in general, with most robberies occur in the late evenings and early mornings. For all international students who were robbed between 2005 and 2009, most were robbed in the evening hours between 8 pm and midnight (47%), and midnight and 4 am (23%). Relatively few robberies occurred during the daytime hours between 8 am and 4 pm (9%), and the distribution of robberies across the week was relatively even, if not slightly skewed towards the weekend.

As was the case for assault, the lack of difference identified between students groups for the temporal factors was expected, given that robbery is primarily an opportunistic crime which is not traditionally racially motivated.

These findings are largely consistent with the hypothesis that occupation and vulnerability on public transport are factors affecting the risk of experiencing robbery or other criminal offences.

Experience of other theft

There was little difference in the rates of other theft both among the international student groups and between the five student groups and the general Australian population (unweighted Australian comparisons) in most states since 2005. The exception was for Indian male students who had higher rates of other theft than students from China, Korea and the United States in some jurisdictions.

Although comparisons with state populations suggest that in a small number of cases Indian students had higher rates of other theft, these comparisons have limited generalisability because ABS data disaggregated by age and gender was not able to be provided. The state averages presented for other theft and used to make comparisons in each chapter are unweighted and are therefore provided for indicative purposes only. Caution should be applied when making comparisons between international students and the relevant jurisdictional population averages.

Explaining the results

This analysis of international students as recorded victims of crime in Australia, in essence, indicates that international students are less likely or as likely to be victims of physical assault and other theft. Further, that the level of crime experienced by international students of different nationalities varied, with Indian students typically experiencing the same or a heightened incidence of assault and other theft than other student nationalities. The findings for robbery were more concerning in that international students, again predominantly Indian students (males and females) but also Chinese males, were significantly more likely to be the victim of robbery for some jurisdictions for some years compared with Australian reference populations drawn from the ABS statistics for each jurisdiction.

Although the findings from this study indicated higher than average rates of robbery among Indian international students compared with the general population, and higher rates of assault for Indian students compared with students from other countries, they should not yet be interpreted as evidence of racism. As has been stated throughout this report, the nature of the data used in this study does not permit a reliable test for racial motivation. Further, there are a number of other differences (other than a person’s racial appearance) that are likely to vary significantly between different student groups that may be important contributors to one’s risk of victimisation.

International students in the main are a particularly vulnerable group due to a range of factors including demographic characteristics and a lack of economic security together with relatively limited options of employment, housing and transport. The types of employment, areas of residence and evening activities (including both shift work and use of public transport) are specific areas of risk for international students that appear to explain some of the incidence of robbery for Indian students, in particular. Other research has shown that a high proportion of migrants to Australia from both English and non-English speaking countries are employed in the accommodation and food services industries, followed by the retail sector. The employment of international students in low-skilled, low-paid roles follows this pattern, with the largest proportion (29%) employed in accommodation and food services, followed by the retail trade (16%).

Indian students in particular, are known to have a greater proficiency in English and, as such, appear much more likely than students from east Asian countries to find employment in the service sector. This includes service stations, convenience stores, taxi drivers and other employment that typically involves working late night shifts alone and come with an increased risk of crime, either at the workplace or while travelling to and from work.

Further, the limited availability of on-campus accommodation for higher education students, and the lack of on-campus accommodation for vocational students, have led many to secure private rentals in inner urban areas as well as to rely on public transport in areas with higher concentrations of crime. Together with their over-representation as employees in the hospitality and services sector, students are therefore faced with multiple risk factors that increase their probability of victimisation irrespective of their racial appearance. The finding that there was a substantial over-representation of Indian students in retail/commercial robberies lends support to this view.

To better understand which risk factors, including racial appearance, are most influential in crimes against international students, further targeted research is required to more accurately assess offender motivations. Such research will prove invaluable for improving the safety (both real and perceived) of students who come to Australia to study and indeed all migrant and ethnic groups in Australia.