Australia’s Revised Migration Approach Implements Stricter Standards for Overseas Students

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Australia’s Revised Migration Approach Implements Stricter Standards for Overseas Students

Australia revealed its highly anticipated Migration Strategy on December 11, 2023, marking it as “the most significant migration overhaul in a generation.” Dr. Martin Parkinson led the comprehensive review that concluded the migration system was in dire need of a decade-long restoration. As anticipated, these reforms will have a profound impact on Australia’s international education sector, with considerable implications for the influx of foreign students into the nation, valued at AUS$30 billion annually.

As of now, the government has not enforced a cap on international student numbers, which comes as a relief for educational institutions in the country. Nevertheless, new policies are poised to reduce these numbers by heightening the difficulty for non-genuine students to secure study and work visas, along with a 17% increase in the financial requirement for visa applicants to AUS$24,505.

Upcoming policy changes, including alterations to post-study work rights, will result in fewer international students remaining in the country for extended periods.

At the heart of these reforms is a mission to reconstruct Australia’s migration system to serve as “the engine for national development it once was.” The strategy report highlights the failure of the migration system in recent years to attract individuals capable of contributing to Australia’s workforce skills, exports, and living standards.

The strategy aims to curb current migration levels significantly. The Sydney Morning Herald notes a plan to halve Australia’s net migration within two years by imposing stringent tests on overseas students and rejecting workers with lower skill levels.

Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil remarked, “This Strategy is about restoring integrity to the system, with projections from Treasury indicating a substantial decline in migration over the next fiscal year.”

Enhancing the integrity of international education is a priority among the strategy’s eight “key actions.” The third action, to be completed by the end of 2024, focuses on bolstering the integrity and quality of international education. It encompasses a package of integrity measures aimed at elevating standards for international students and education providers. These measures include:

Increasing the minimum English language requirements for student and graduate visas Applying additional scrutiny to high-risk student applications Cracking down on unscrupulous education providers Strengthening the student visa integrity unit in the Department of Home Affairs Enhancing requirements for international education providers Restricting onshore visa hopping undermining system integrity Reforming Temporary Graduate visas to discourage long-term temporary stays Accompanying these measures is the establishment of a Department of Home Affairs’ “student visa integrity unit,” initially funded at AUS$19 million. Minister for Education Jason Clare emphasized, “The Government’s Migration Strategy emphasizes our commitment to prevent student exploitation and uphold Australia’s reputation as a top-tier international education provider.”

The strategy addresses the pandemic’s adverse impact on the integrity of the system, as the closure of Australia’s borders for two years severely affected schools, universities, and VET providers. Consequently, the government rushed to enact policies to facilitate the return of international students when the borders reopened. However, the report notes that the post-COVID growth was partially driven by non-genuine students and unscrupulous education providers circumventing regulatory frameworks and taking advantage of pandemic-related visa concessions.

Efforts to discourage non-genuine students involve stringent actions against high-risk education providers and increased regulation of agents. The government plans to introduce a “Genuine Student Test” for all international students, designed to incentivize genuine applications and ensure most students return home after their studies.

Moreover, adjustments to post-study work rights and visa limits for different degrees aim to reduce the phenomenon of “permanent temporariness.” On the flip side, reforms to the points test will offer graduates working in skilled jobs faster pathways to permanent residency.

The Australian government also aims to collaborate with education providers and employers to graduate students with sought-after skills through integrated learning programs such as work placements and co-op programs.

These reforms align with similar moves in Canada and the UK, where governments are shifting from encouraging unregulated growth to scrutinizing the selection of international students allowed to study, work, and immigrate.

Critical to these reforms is the preservation of public confidence in the international education and migration systems, emphasizing the need to maintain the “social license” for Australia’s international education system to thrive in the years ahead.

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