Australia’s jobs pitch lures some foreign students, but not others

Canberra’s work rights strategy influences make-up of new arrivals, as Perth changes entry rules again

February 18, 2022
jobseeker, jobseeking international students in Australia, international student flows to Australia
Source: iStock

Australia’s jobs-based pitch to international students is producing mixed results, with those willing to work flocking to the country while others stay away.

The federal government says the number of foreign students arriving in Australia is accelerating by more than 3,000 a week, from around 7,000 in the final week of January to almost 13,500 in the second week of February.

Immigration minister Alex Hawke said around 80,000 overseas students had flown in since the borders opened to them in mid-December. He credited government reforms designed “to encourage more workers to come to Australia to support our economic recovery”.

In January, the government pledged to refund the visa fees of overseas students arriving over the following two months. It also scrapped the limit on the number of hours the students were allowed to work during term time, in a “temporary” measure to be reviewed in April.

“There are more jobs now available in Australia than before the Covid-19 pandemic,” Mr Hawke said. “There are still many more places available to backpackers and students that we are ready to fill.​ Australia is open for business.”

While international student flows are increasing, they are still below pre-pandemic levels. Before coronavirus struck, almost 200,000 foreign students were commencing new courses at the beginning of each year.

Only around 10 per cent of the student arrivals this summer have been from China, which supplied about 28 per cent of overall foreign enrolments before the pandemic, and 38 per cent of higher education enrolments.

Chinese students tend to show relatively little interest in paid employment during their Australian studies, unlike their South Asian peers – a factor that may have influenced students’ willingness to study offshore.

The latest federal education department figures show that at least 62 per cent of student visa holders from China were outside Australia in December. This compared with 9 per cent of students from India and 2 per cent of those from Nepal.

The International Education Association of Australia said the country was “over-reliant” on the subcontinent for growth in student numbers. “Enrolments are patchy,” CEO Phil Honeywood added. “Some universities are getting lots of applications but they’re not necessarily translating into enrolments.”

He said that “delayed government action” in Australia may have led to many students “voting with their feet” ahead of semester one, and choosing Canada, the UK or the US instead. “In the lead-up to semester two, we hope to have a lot more clarity around actual trend data.”

Commentators have speculated that tensions between Beijing and Canberra may have dampened student flows from China, but Mr Honeywood blamed other factors. They included a lack of commercial flights, lockdowns in China and health concerns related to Australia’s current coronavirus outbreaks, as well as Chinese students’ continuing appetite for online courses.  

Meanwhile, Western Australia’s government has changed its rules yet again to allow international students to fly in from interstate – overturning a bizarre arrangement that limited entry to foreigners who had arrived elsewhere in Australia by 5 February.

However, students still face restrictions on flying in directly from overseas.

The state has also unveiled a support package for international education. It includes payments to help cover the quarantine costs of recent arrivals, with A$2,000 (£1,057) available to each student and A$500 to each student’s host university.

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