The Australian government has reassured international students they are still welcome in the country, after announcing changes to its temporary worker visa last week caused concerns among prospective and current students.
The changes, which will see the 457 temporary skilled work visa replaced with a more stringent Temporary Skill Shortage visa in March 2018, will not directly affect student visas or the post-study work rights visa scheme. However industry stakeholders have reported a level of confusion from overseas colleagues.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unexpectedly abolished the scheme last week and said its replacement will ensure that “Australians, wherever possible, where vacancies are there, where job opportunities are there, Australians will be able to fill them.”
Several providers have identified uncertainty among students and education agents regarding how the changes will affect students’ work opportunities after study, while several overseas media outlets have been identified as providing inaccurate information on the changes.
“Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection clearly did not see it as their role to communicate who would not be affected by the changes to 457 visa settings,” IEAA chief executive Phil Honeywood told The PIE News.
“Wherever possible, where vacancies are there, where job opportunities are there, Australians will be able to fill them”
“It quickly became apparent that international students were making extensive use of social media to express their concerns about possible impacts,” he added.
Honeywood said those concerns prompted education minister Simon Birmingham to tweet, “Fact. Australia is open to educating the world,” with an accompanying graphic which has been circulated by Australian educators’ accounts.
At this stage, the minister has not released a formal media statement on the impact of the changes to international students.
Indirectly, fewer international students will be eligible for the upcoming TSS visa than for the 457 skilled worker visa program, as the upcoming scheme requires applicants have a higher level of English, a minimum two years’ work experience in their skilled occupation, and the list of eligible occupations will also be reduced.
The move remains in line with the Australian government’s efforts to separate ties between its overseas study visa program and skilled migration, after concerns of widespread fraud at the turn of the decade.
“It is a very responsive approach, but the fundamental difference is, it is focused relentlessly on the national interest and on ensuring that temporary migration visas are not a passport for foreigners to take up jobs that could and should be filled by Australians,” said Turnbull.
But educators aired their concerns that any changes could have a mild dampening effect on student enrolments.
“While the reforms do not have a direct relationship to education, international students do consider future employment opportunities in choosing study destinations,” ACPET chief executive Rod Camm said in a statement.
“Any perceived tightening of migration conditions may discourage some students from choosing Australia as their study destination,” he added.
While the abolition of the 457 visa system has caused anxiety among students, the number of student visa holders moving to a 457 visa has been gradually decreasing over the past three years.
Since 2012/13, the number of student visa holders who moved onto a 457 visa shrunk by almost 35% to 11,696 in 2015/16, despite student numbers hitting a record 554,179 in 2016.
Conversely, the post-study work stream of the 485 temporary graduate visa, which provides up to four years work depending on level of qualification completed, saw a marked increased in 2015/16, more than doubling from 9,400 to 21,300 from the previous year.
It is unclear if the removal of the 457 visa could mean fewer international students move in the opposite direction, converting from a temporary skilled worker visa to a student visa, as DIBP does not publicly provide those figures, but Honeywood estimated the numbers would be low.
“Australia has a competitive advantage right now amidst uncertainty in many other parts of the world – we need to safeguard that advantage and not undermine it in any way”
Meanwhile, Universities Australia also expressed concern the TSS could affect Australia’s university system and prevent them from recruiting “the best and brightest minds from around the world.”
In particular, UA said the work experience requirement would prevent universities from recruiting recent PhD graduates and also requested university lecturers and tutors be restored to the medium term skills list.UA chief executive Belinda Robinson said in a statement.
“Australia has a competitive advantage right now amidst uncertainty in many other parts of the world – we need to safeguard that advantage and not undermine it in any way,”
“The ability of our universities to bring brilliant minds into Australia is crucial to the global research collaborations that will help us to create new jobs and new industries for Australians.”
Immigration minister Peter Dutton subsequently vowed to take a broad view of what constitutes work experience, with his office telling the Australian Financial Review experience may vary depending on occupation, “such as research and teaching experience accumulated by PhDs.”
SOURCE: THE PIE NEWS