The document, officially titled the Migration Strategy, includes eight key actions to overhaul the migration system, one of which focuses on international education.
“International education is a new engine of economic growth for Australia and an important part of our social fabric,” the review reads.
“However, growth in the sector needs to be promoted through integrity and quality, and students and graduates need to be better supported to realise their economic potential in the labour market,” it continues.
Despite assurances from CEO of IEAA Phil Honeywood that there would not be a cap on student numbers in November, Home Affairs minister Clare O’Neil refused to rule out just that at a press conference on the Strategy when asked.
She said, however, that she was confident Australia had “caught this problem in time” with the new package of measures.
These so-called “integrity measures” to improve standards in the sector for both providers and students, while reportedly making sure graduates “do not become ‘permanently temporary’”.
As part of the review, the government will introduce a brand new Genuine Student Test, which it assures will “incentivise” genuine student applications and discourage those that are not – that is, those “whose primary intention is to work rather than study”.
“This test will replace the existing Genuine Temporary Entrant requirement to acknowledge that post-study temporary migration (and beyond) pathways are available for those who may be eligible.”
Details of the questions that will be included in the test to discourage fake applications and abuse of the system have not been given.
Crucially, in a move that mirrors rules in the US, the test will “be clear that the vast majority” of international students in Australia will return home after their studies.
A notable part of the package includes a $19m investment into a new Department of Home Affairs’ student visa integrity unit, which will allow for “greater scrutiny” at the point of application, the document reads.
“This will reduce the misuse of student visas by those using it to seek work in Australia instead of study and those seeking to exploit international students.”
However, a distinct lack of details are shared regarding how the integrity unit will be implementing the funds and how it will further scrutinise applications. It did note it would be working with ASQA’s recently launched integrity unit “through cross-agency compliance activities”.
Separately from that investment, two ministerial directions surrounding scrutiny of applications will also be introduced.
One will outline “areas of consideration” to support those making decisions on applications, which will look more at specific circumstances of those applying for the visas to pinpoint the usefulness of their intended study “to their future career prospects”.
“The biggest growth in visa hopping has been in the VET sector”
The other will focus on the ever-present issue of visa processing, looking at how to best prioritise applications – which will largely hinge on the “risk-level of providers”, the document read – coming into effect as early as the end of the year.
“Higher risk providers will experience slower processing times as visa decision makers consider the integrity of a provider, as well as the individual student applicants,” the Review detailed. The method of deciding which providers are high-risk was not detailed.
Temporary Graduate Visas will also be revamped, as its current form has led to far too many graduates becoming “permanently temporary” in Australia.
The Review says it will be “strengthening graduate visas” to ensure more are actually working at their skill level and addressing the skills gaps in Australia – avoiding the “permanently temporary” label.
The sector has dealt with difficult truths regarding its post study work scheme, which Honeywood called a “ponzi scheme” in public hearings earlier this year.
Temporary Graduate Visa lengths under the reforms:
- 2 years for Bachelor Degree (no change)
- 2 years Masters by coursework (reduced from 3 years)
- 3 years for Masters by research (no change)
- 3 years for PhD (reduced from 4 years)
The eligibility for a second temporary graduate visa will remain unchanged – but the further extension of two years will be eliminated.
Graduates in skilled jobs in the labour market can instead apply for the newly introduced “Skills in Demand” visa – a replacement for Australia’s temporary skills shortage visa – or a permanent skilled visa.
“The Government is… strengthening the pathway from graduate visas to temporary skilled visas to give employers more certainty about a graduate’s ongoing work rights and pathways to permanent residence,” the Review reads.
And in another move to bolster “early career professionals”, the maximum eligible age for a temporary graduate visa will be lowered from 50 to 35 – a move that, Ly Tran said on LinkedIn, is largely “unreasonable”.
Also included in the package was a revamp of English language requirements for international students and graduates – which was predicted by a review earlier this year.
Starting early next year, student visa English language requirements will increase from IELTs 5.5 to 6.0 – and the minimum temporary graduate visa score will move up to 6.5 from 6.0.
For those who are wanting to take an ELICOS before they come to Australia to study, the test score they must achieve will go from 4.5 to 5.0.
Not forgetting pathway programs, the Review declared that “foundation or pathway” outfits – only those that deliver “reputable English language training”, it noted – will need to score at least 5.5.
English Australia, commenting on the changes to the English language requirements, said it had been “actively working” with the government on it.
“Higher risk providers will experience slower processing times”
“Our goal has been to make sure the government understands the potential impact of this change, to minimise any negative effects where possible, and to ensure that the voices of our members are heard,” the organisation said.
Another problem that has been identified in recent months in Australia is the so-called visa-hopping, happening onshore – commissions for agents soliciting the practice have already been banned.
The Review sets out measures to try and solve the issue once and for all.
“The numbers of international students staying in Australia on a second, or subsequent student visa has grown by over 30% to more than 150,000 in 2022-23.
“The biggest growth in visa hopping has been in the VET sector, where there is a lower likelihood of a credible course progression. However, in 2022-23 almost 69,000 students granted a subsequent student visa in Australia have stayed in, or shifted into, studying in VET, compared to 42,000 students pre-pandemic in 2018–19,” the Review reads.
It makes the case that the new Genuine Student Test will largely help with these, requiring eligible students to provide evidence to demonstrate that new courses actually furthers their career or academic endeavours.
This includes the area which has seen the most abuse – “such as undertaking a practical VET course to complement their degree”, the Review notes.
As part of restrictions on visa hopping, those on temporary graduate visas who apply for a student visa “in order to prolong their stay in Australia” will be restricted from doing so.