Visa changes ‘threaten Australia’s nursing student supply’

Filipino students look elsewhere as Australia downgrades risk rating

五月 3, 2024

Australia’s visa reforms are threatening a key supply of registered nurses, potentially exacerbating the country’s health worker shortages.

Visa processing changes have contributed to a slump in enrolments from the Philippines, which is among Australia’s 12 top sources of international higher education students and its four top sources of nurses.

In early April, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) downgraded the Philippines’ immigration risk rating to level 3. Processing of visa applications from level 3 countries receives low priority, under a directive from home affairs minister Clare O’Neill.

Applicants must also supply additional evidence that they have the financial resources and English language ability needed to study in Australia, unless they are bound for universities with level 1 risk ratings. Most universities are now rated level 2 or 3.

Recent DHA data suggest the new arrangements are discouraging enrolments from Filipino students, who are increasingly unwilling to risk their plans – and hefty visa application fees – on a country that appears increasingly unlikely to accept them.

Fewer than 500 would-be higher education students sought visas from the Philippines in the first three months of 2024, compared with more than 900 in the same period last year. The number of visas awarded to this group in March was the lowest in six years.

Long considered the biggest supplier of export nurses to the world, the Philippines contributes an estimated 6 per cent of Australia’s nursing workforce. Many are educated in Australia.

International education advocate Phil Honeywood said Australian accreditation authorities had encouraged an over-reliance on the Philippines by imposing unnecessarily high English language requirements on entry-level nursing students. The federal government was now undermining the Filipino nurse pipeline with the “blunt instrument” of a national risk rating.

Mr Honeywood said Canberra’s “one general policy fits all” approach had led to a scarcity of nursing candidates who were “desperately needed for our beleaguered health industry. The government might need to consider a special exemption or carveout for a country such as the Philippines.”

Sarah Todd, vice-president (global) at Griffith University, said the Philippines had been a strong developing source of “great” students in nursing and health disciplines, among others. She said the downgrading of the country’s immigration risk rating seemed to have been caused primarily by visa refusals and cancellations in the vocational rather than higher education sector.

“I wouldn’t have said it was a higher risk market,” Professor Todd said. “There was nothing in our visa refusal rates to suggest that there was a problem there. It seems to be largely driven by high-volume, non-university providers.”

She said the problem had spilt over into higher education, with Griffith noticing a spike in “odd” rejections of visa applications from the Philippines over the past 12 months.

Degree-trained nurses are among the 20 occupational groups in most shortage Down Under, according to advisory agency Jobs and Skills Australia.

Renzo Guinto, of the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, said “health worker migration” had longstanding roots in his native Philippines and a central role in its labour policy. “The unique Filipino brand of care and compassion [is] part of our culture,” he said.

The US had absorbed “a huge wave” of Filipino nurses before suddenly refusing to accept them, he noted. “I hope that Australia will reconsider this new policy regarding visas.”



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