Australian migration rules ‘risk international education crisis’

Policies risk inciting behaviour worse than 2000s immigration scams, expert warns

十二月 21, 2021
A surfer on a small board falls on a wave to illustrate Australian migration rules ‘risk international education crisis’
Source: Getty

Policy amnesia and a wall of silence between federal agencies could propel Australian international education into a crisis worse than the “degrees for residency” debacle early this century, an immigration expert has warned.

Abul Rizvi said post-study work rights were replacing educational aspirations as the main motivation for many overseas enrolments. This risked encouraging low-quality courses as colleges tailored their offerings to students’ real objectives, trashing the country’s educational reputation in the process.

Dr Rizvi has warned that policies such as the removal of limits on overseas students’ working hours – an emergency Covid measure to fill job vacancies in the health, caring, hospitality, agriculture and supermarket industries – were turning Australia into a “low-skilled guest worker society”.

“Everybody else still says student visas are about studying. We seem to be saying student visas are about working. If you can’t get into the US, Canada, the UK or New Zealand, and you haven’t got much money, come to Australia because we’ll let you do courses where you don’t have to attend much.”

The Department of Home Affairs described the abolition of working limits as “temporary measures”, but has not said when they will end. The Council of Small Business Associations Australia wants other types of jobs included so that all international students can “work as many hours as possible”.

“We…have a shortage across lots of different industries,” chief executive Alexi Boyd told the ABC.

Dr Rizvi, a former deputy secretary of the immigration department who recently completed a PhD on immigration policy, said temporary measures often tended to “become permanent” where migration was concerned.

He said he was particularly concerned about an idea floated in the new international education strategy to award graduate employment visas to foreign students who had completed their entire courses overseas, in another permanent adoption of an emergency Covid measure.

“The risk is that a large number of providers will do cheap, low-quality courses,” he said. Students would gladly pay low tuition fees and avoid the expense of relocating to Australia, “as long as they can get a subclass 485 visa at the end”.

He likened this prospect to the mid-2000s explosion of enrolments in dubious private cooking and hairdressing courses, as students from South and East Asia capitalised on rules guaranteeing permanent residency to graduates with certain skills.

The rules changed from 2008, triggering a collapse of overseas enrolments. Dr Rizvi said that the coming crisis could be worse because offshore courses were “very difficult to regulate”.

Officials were oblivious to the risks because public servant turnover had limited corporate memory of previous mistakes to only a few years. The situation was exacerbated by an apparent lack of communication among the education, home affairs and Treasury departments. “They’re just not coordinating…to make sure their distinct objectives are being delivered in a coherent way.”

Dr Rizvi cited the new international education strategy’s focus on offshore education despite treasury assumptions that net overseas migration (NOM) will rise to 235,000 people a year – a figure only achievable with a “very large” intake of foreign students, who accounted for more than 40 per cent of NOM before the pandemic.

During an estimates hearing in May, home affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo – who carries responsibility for immigration – said he had “no idea” how the NOM projection had been calculated. “You will need to ask the Treasury,” he told senators.



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Reader's comments (1)

Indeed. Policy amnesia is impacting the left right and centre of policy developments as mistakes of the past are either not known or have been forgotten altogether!