Estimates suggest that around 30% of 100,000 individuals currently on 408 Covid visas in Australia are former international students. Peak bodies have welcomed the government decision to end the visa as it closes a loophole that has been used to access the jobs market.
The decision to close the visa from February 2024 for all applicants will help to maintain Australia’s reputation as a quality international education destination, they say.
The visa will only be open to applications from existing pandemic event visa holders from September 2 this year. A charge of AUS$405 will also be introduced.
“We’ve lobbied for the cessation of this visa extensively”
Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Giles, said that the ending of the pandemic event visa, which the Labor government inherited from the former coalition government which was in power at the height of the pandemic, was previously “an important part of Australia’s visa system” during Covid-19.
“Many people on temporary visas helped Australia during this period. We’re providing an opportunity for people who hold a pandemic event visa to explore another visa option, or plan to leave Australia,” he said.
“Under the Liberals, our migration system wasn’t working for anyone. There was no plan to deal with how the borders reopened.
“We’ve brought wait times down, and we’re working to make sure our migration system is working again for all Australians after a decade of mess and mismanagement under the Liberals,” he said, in a dig at the former government.
Speaking at the English Australia conference taking place in Sydney this week, the body’s CEO Brett Blacker said the association is “delighted by the announcement of the ceasing of the Covid 408 activity visa”.
“We’ve lobbied for the cessation of this visa extensively, noting that the ELICOS sector has been utilised more than most for students to be able to access the 408 visa due to the short-term study nature of their student visas,” he told The PIE.
“Within the estimates that 30% of the student of the visa cohort on 408 are students, we know this has had an impact on the international education sector, so the closing of the visa at this point is well received.”
When Blacker announced the decision to the conference there was huge applause from those gathered.
Phil Honeywood, CEO of IEAA, noted that the government should be congratulated on the “overdue measure”.
“It was obviously a legacy policy problem that they inherited from the previous coalition government, but it’s been allowed to continue for too long and we’ve now got over 100,000 holders of these visa types. At least 30% of those are estimated to be former international students who’ve jumped on to work full time,” he told The PIE.
“And we are really keen that Australia’s reputation as a quality international education destination is being [maintained].”
The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia had also called on the government to bring to an end the practice of international students being able to access the visa.
“A growing number of international students have been opting not to complete their studies by accessing the pandemic event visa so they they could take up full-time work,” said Troy Williams, ITECA chief executive.
“This isn’t the best outcome for students, as they came to Australia to undertake studies and we want the visa framework to support students in this.
“ITECA wants to put students at the heart of the international education sector and the associated visa framework. These challenges are not the fault of students. When a student comes here to study, we want a visa framework that best supports them by better enabling them to complete their course.”
The announcement comes after several key policy decisions impacting the international education sector.
Last week, Canberra said it would abolish concurrent confirmation of enrolments, which was allegedly being used by unscrupulous providers to help students switch providers.
The Australian Skills Quality Authority has also been given “more scope” to keep substandard, unethical, dishonest or non-compliant practices out of the VET sector.
The Albanese government also ended unlimited work hours for international students in July this year, which was a measure initially introduced during the pandemic.
The 408 Covid visa decision “comes on top of recent announcements that all about returning Australia’s good quality study destination reputation”, Honeywood said.
“We look forward to more policy reforms to be announced in coming months,” he added.
“We’ve seen a trend of students on student visas moving to Covid visas and discontinuing their studies”
English Australia board member and CEO of Discover English, Joanna Kelly, detailed that the school in Melbourne had seen students leave courses early to begin working in Australia instead.
“The discontinuation of the 408 Covid visa has been anticipated by the sector for months,” she told The PIE.
“At Discover English, we’ve seen a trend of students in the last three months on student visas moving to Covid visas and discontinuing their studies,” she said.
“Other providers were also losing students who, instead of extending their English course or moving to further studies at vocational or higher education level, applied for the visa that allowed them full time work rights. It was meant to be a temporary measure.”
Additional reporting by Emily O’Callaghan.