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Fortress Australia needs to open its doors to international students

Whilst the two main political parties bicker over how many Australians should have already come into the country and how to prioritise numbers, one of the country’s most important export industries is being left to languish and potentially perish leaving much unemployment and lost opportunities in its wake.

International students have been blocked from travelling to Australia as a result of Covid-19 travel restrictions. Photo: Unsplash

"The battered international education industry is crying out for a further wages supplementation program"

International education is at breaking point and we need a national approach to temporary and permanent immigration to prevent this $40 billion industry from falling over.

And as universities gear up for another academic year, nothing has changed for the international education sector. The federal government has still not announced a timeline for the return of international students and there are no pilot programs approved yet for 2021 to bring international students in to Australia.

Meanwhile, as we look toward the end of JobKeeper, the battered international education industry is crying out for a further wages supplementation program, akin to those received by travel agents and airlines.

English language colleges are depleted of students, and these are the feeders for universities and private sector colleges throughout the country.

States have been doing as much as they can to support the sector, from their financial assistance last year to those students badly affected by the loss of jobs when the pandemic hit, to their instigation of pilot programs and constant negotiation with federal government to bring students back.

Most importantly, the states want students to stay and actively encourage them to do so with enticing pathways for those who study in colleges and universities in their towns and cities. It is the federal government that wants to keep the divide in place, making it hard to approve a student visa if the intention is viewed as students wanting to remain permanently.

“It is the federal government that wants to keep the divide in place”

‘Fortress Australia’, as our great country is being viewed right now by overseas students, is open and welcoming from the perspective of the states and the wider Australian community. But from the point of view of our prime minister and his cabinet, it is not.

Every state, except for Victoria and Queensland, has now released its full list of occupations for skilled migration and some have made it abundantly clear that they want students to stay. South Australia’s Study Adelaide website promotes migration pathways – whilst Tasmania provides pathways for those who study from a Certificate IV to a Diploma.

While the migration pathways may not be as easy to navigate and achieve as the states may make out, numbers are limited, (Tasmania’s quota for 2020-2021 is 2400 in total, 1400 of those being for temporary residence initially), there are opportunities for those with the skills in demand.

WA has a far longer list of occupations available to graduates of its universities or colleges and in the NT, it is ‘populate or perish’ – no wonder they have been working so hard to secure students. The territory successfully brought its first 63 students back late last year through Howard Springs quarantine.

In addition, the NT skilled migration department has now made it much harder to migrate there if you are onshore unless you study there first. Invitations are rarely awarded to those who studied in another state, regardless of them having lived and worked there post-studies.

The leaders of the states and those working in international education for state government are well aware of the skillsets brought to their states by international students and are prepared to reward them for spending their time and money on studies. States like South Australia recognise that they need to populate and students who are already accustomed to the lifestyle, working, paying taxes and assimilated into Australia make perfect candidates.

International students and temporary migrants don’t vote, but there is no doubting their contribution economically to Australia. With vaccinations now being distributed to Australia’s frontline workers, when is the federal government going to wake up to its economic responsibilities when it comes to its fourth largest export industry?

About the author:

Melanie Macfarlane is founding member of the International Student Education Agents Association. With 17 years of experience as an immigration professional, Melanie is a passionate advocate for her industry in terms of the economic benefits that immigration brings, as well as the diverse and vibrant communities it creates not only in Australia but throughout the world. She is also a member of the Migration Institute of Australia.

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10 Responses to Fortress Australia needs to open its doors to international students

  1. It should be mentioned that Covid concessions have still not been applied to some crucial visas which international students may apply for in the future. For example, many regional states have encouraged students to study in designated regional areas as through the provision of more benefits e.g. longer post graduate visa, more skilled occupations on the list etc. One key benefit is the opportunity for students to apply for the regional 190 visa once they have finished their work visa. This enables them to apply for PR if they are in skilled employment and contributing to the regional economy. However one condition of this this visa states that the student must physically be studying in the regional area for at least one year and also 50% of the course must be completed in the regional area. Despite COVID, this condition has unfortunately not changed and will impact many students when they try to find permanent work. International students have opted to study in these regional areas due to the better benefits. However, those who are stuck offshore not only lose out on the campus experience, but will also not be able to apply for PR in the future through the special 190 visa (if rules stay the same) and thus alot of them will have to change their career plans

  2. please open your conutry for us like me that im a international student how can we continue live our life if we are scared to this covid.

    • Yes it is. Australia wants immigrants. What better way than getting students. You can observe them for atleast 2 years to check if they are rotten. They get used to the culture, get jobs and pay taxes.
      Dont let the English Language Schools give visas. They are mostly fraud.
      Also dont think the best will come to Australia. They will not. From Indian Experience.. the category A students and category B students will go to USA. Some serious students will go to UK.
      The rest will come to Canada, Australia and Europe. Students will go to Germany cause it is almost free but will struggle afterwards.
      For some reasons Canada and Australia also accept students that a self respecting Indian college wont touch. They are there for immigration only and may not even attend a day in college if possible.

      • Very right Rohit.
        Canada is being flooded by Indian students who gain entry into colleges, not universities. Relatively the college fees are lower and course duration shorter. This college route is one quick way to becoming a permanent resident.
        You see a lot of them riding in the downtown area as food couriers.

  3. So you are categorically admitting that this so-called “export” industry is nothing more than a massive backdoor immigration scheme? That is shocking and it is no wonder university standards have plummeted in order to push through overseas students. How is the industry at “breaking point” when most universities have large endowments and made operating profits in 2020?

    Let’s hope the government promptly removes the link between studying here and permanent residency.

  4. It’s good that Australia is thinking about their people’s health but at the same time they should also think about the others who got migrated from other countries with many hopes they may migrate and also investing so much of money on their studies and also there are so many kids who are still waiting to see their parents who got seperated for almost an year and there are so many couples who are waiting to meet their loved ones also so many people are moving back to their own countries because of this and no one is encouraging further studies in Australia because they feel like they are treated as just visitors who are also paying taxes and other things same as citizens #letusbacktoaustralia

  5. The government wants universities as immigration pathways and will try to restart that as soon as it is safe.

    Immigration is how we pay pensions and superannuation (right or wrong). However, the government seems to feel (like you) that some have let standards slip too far. They seem happy to let those institutions fail.

    This might be good for everyone.

  6. I am Chitra here a mother of a Australian student who came down to Australia to persue his post graduation, due to this pandemic situation he was forced to leave Australia and now struggling to move back to finish is studies, we as a middle class family send our kids with so many dreams and with complete debt, now because of your stubborn decision of not opening the border for students us affecting us a lot. Kindly permit atleast the students .

    • Chitra, I presume your son’s intention is to finish his studies in Australia and stay put and not return to India to start his work life there.

  7. Not all international students come to Australia with intention to stay. Some purely want to study and go back to their countries to work as in some countries obtaining an overseas degree has more weight than there own. I think we are focusing on immigration and overgeneralizing.

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