National systems of vocational education and training around the globe are facing reform driven by quality, international mobility, and equity. Evidence suggests that there are qualitatively distinctive challenges in providing and sustaining workplace learning experiences to international students. However, despite growing conceptual and empirical work, there is little evidence of the experiences of these students undertaking workplace learning opportunities as part of vocational education courses. This paper draws on a four-year study funded by the australian research council that involved 105 in depth interviews with international students undertaking work integrated learning placements as part of vocational education courses in australia. The results indicate that international students can experience different forms of discrimination and deskilling, and that these were legitimised by students in relation to their understanding of themselves as being an international student (with fewer rights). However, the results also demonstrated the ways in which international students exercised their agency towards navigating or even disrupting these circumstances, which often included developing their social and cultural capital. This study, therefore, calls for more proactively inclusive induction and support practices that promote reciprocal understandings and navigational capacities for all involved in the provision of work integrated learning. This, it is argued, would not only expand and enrich the learning opportunities for international students, their tutors, employers, and employees involved in the provision of workplace learning opportunities, but it could also be a catalyst to promote greater mutual appreciation of diversity in the workplace. 2016, Springer science+business media dordrecht.