In a significant move, the Australian government is set to overhaul visa rules for foreign students, removing the automatic barrier for those expressing a desire to settle in the country long term. This change, scheduled for March, aims to position Australia as a global talent hub while concurrently managing a reduction in net overseas migration, which reached a record 518,000 last year.
Under the current system, aspiring migrants studying in Australia face hurdles as they are automatically disqualified if they express a long-term settlement intention. However, this rule will be eliminated in March, marking a crucial shift in the government's approach to attracting international talent. The amendment is part of a broader initiative to introduce a "genuine student" test that will sift through applications to identify legitimate students seeking education rather than a backdoor entry for work opportunities. The modification has been welcomed by the tertiary sector, considering it a pragmatic change that aligns with Australia's existing pathways for international students to stay long-term. Former top immigration official Abul Rizvi criticized the existing rule, deeming it unnecessary and putting Home Affairs staff in the difficult position of discerning applicants' true intentions. Rizvi emphasized that Australia already offers pathways for international students to settle permanently, questioning the need for the current pretense. Phil Honeywood, the head of the International Education Association of Australia, supported the move, stating that the current genuine temporary entrant test is no longer effective. He argued that the test has prevented genuine students with valuable skills from entering Australia while making it easy for education agents to guide students in providing the "right" answers. Home Affairs data indicates a record number of student visa refusals in the past six months, reflecting the government's efforts to alleviate migration pressures and combat systemic abuses in the education system. However, government sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, revealed that weekly approval rates in January were significantly lower compared to the previous year. Despite these changes, critics like opposition immigration spokesman Dan Tehan argue that it might be too little too late. Tehan pointed out that Labor had issued a record 577,295 student visas in the previous financial year, contributing to an annual overseas migration figure of 518,000 people. He accused the government of mishandling immigration and creating issues such as housing shortages and rent hikes due to population growth. In response, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil unveiled additional measures to control student migration, including a crackdown on "ghost" international colleges and stricter English-language tests. The focus will now shift towards conducting interviews and evaluating the relevance of intended courses and the integrity of educational providers. While opinions on these changes vary, the removal of the bar on foreign students expressing a desire to move to Australia is seen by some, like Labor MP Julian Hill, as a sensible reform. According to Hill, this adjustment will enhance the integrity of the student visa program and assist in identifying individuals who can fill skills shortages in the country.