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Australia: English requirements could rise amid immigration shakeup

According to the review, “hundreds” of visa routes are set to be simplified. Photo: Pexels

Other recommendations include an overall simplification of the visa framework

The head of English Australia has said that the current confusion surrounding different visa programs for international students leads to “misconceptions”, responding to the review conducted by the Department of Home Affairs.

“The report notes the vast number of current visa classes and subclasses, which is complex,” Brett Blacker, English Australia’s CEO, told The PIE News.

“Unfortunately, it also leads to confusion around different visa cohorts.

“The lines between student visa holders that are considered ‘temporary’ entrants and other migrant pathways can lead to misconceptions about international student social integration and their English language proficiency,” he explained.

The report from the Department of Home Affairs, scrutinising hot topics in Australian international education, saw the presiding panel express its concern regarding slipping English language proficiency among them.

“There’s an underlying expectation that at the end of a degree in Australia a student’s English will be enhanced,” the report read.

“However, many students are starting from a low base – [IELTS] 5.5 is relatively low (somewhere between ‘modest’ and ‘competent’).

“It would be worth examining whether raising the level of English proficiency required under these visas would help ensure that graduates have better chances of success in our labour market. Such a move might also help safeguard educational quality,” it continued.

Blacker, whose organisation represents many English language course providers in the country, said that this approach leaves those “world-class” providers “unrecognised” – despite being a “cornerstone of our international education ecosystem”.

Phil Honeywood, chief executive of IEAA, also pointed out a similar omission.

“[There is an] apparent lack of recognition of English pathways which currently allow overseas students to come to Australia with IELTS 5.5 equivalent level and, through studying more English here, then reach the required English entry level for their course,” Honeywood told The PIE.

The proposal of a possible federal raise of the English language proficiency score and general requirements for incoming students comes with other key recommendations, such as the reworking of the Genuine Temporary Entrant system.

“Resetting the framework to focus on genuine students, regardless of whether they hope to stay or return home, will provide much-needed clarity and a system which will be much easier to navigate,” the Australian Technology Network of universities said in a statement.

Other recommendations include an overall simplification of the visa framework – including identifying “high-quality” graduates for skill gaps, instead of the current system, and minimise the graduate visa’s duration.

“The migration system creates incentives for non-genuine students”

Troy Williams, chief executive of ITECA, said that the recommendations provide a “framework for migration” more closely aligns Jobs and Skills Australia’s work with “the sector’s output”.

While it will not be an overnight method, the plan that resonates throughout the review is that “hundreds” of visa routes will be simplified.

Also featured in the report is the idea that “high-quality” education should be provided, both to domestic students and internationals.

“The panel notes the migration system creates incentives for non-genuine students and unscrupulous profit-seeking education providers; the student visa can be used by international students who seek a credential, rather than an education, or can be used solely to gain access to the Australian labour market.

“Secondly, some institutions have a profit motive to enrol greater volumes of international students at the expense of quality applicants or learning outcomes,” the report shared.

It mentioned that the proportion of international graduates going for permanent residence “far exceeds the limited supply” of permanent residency permits – an issue that is also prevalent in Canada’s migration system.

While the report relents that steps were taken to dull perception that there is a “seamless pathway to permanent residence” in 2010, the issue still remains.

In the new recommendations, “there would be an option to, in a very narrow set of circumstances, provide a more certain direction to the permanent residence pathway”.

“It would be best to constrain this opportunity using a mix of indicators, including student attributes, performance and level of study (e.g. postgraduate research),” the report noted.

It also examined the issues of exploitation around international students and their work rights while studying – especially in terms of employer conduct.

“The next eight weeks are crucial”

“The [work] cap has been found to create vulnerabilities for students who wish to work longer hours and fear their employer may report them to the Department of Home Affairs.

“The panel suggests the cap’s role in the student visa program be reviewed,” the report also read.

This follows public hearings that took place in April, where Honeywood said the current work rights setup in the country was “becoming a bit of a Ponzi scheme”.

“International graduates do not perform as well as might be expected in our labour market – former students are among the largest cohort of ‘permanently temporary’ migrants,” the report noted.

Overall, the recommendations are being received well, but with a pinch of apprehension.

Blacker called it “encouraging” that the department will be consulting on the strategy’s outline and “critical policy shifts over the coming months”.

“For independent skills training and higher education providers, the next eight weeks are crucial as ITECA is consulted on the details of the recommendations and what these will mean in practice for onshore international students completing their courses,” Williams told The PIE.

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