By Stephen Johnson, Economics Reporter For Daily Mail Australia
07:02 12 Dec 2023, updated 09:39 12 Dec 2023
The federal government will crack down on international students gaming the visa system but offer a new pathway for skilled migrants on high salaries.
Overseas students will also have to achieve higher English test scores to prove they are competent but not necessary good at speaking, listening and reading Australia’s national language.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil is promising to reduce overall net overseas migration by 185,000 over four years based on new, stricter rules.
But Treasury is now forecasting 510,000 migrants would have arrived in 2022-23 – up from 400,000 predicted in the May Budget.
The Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook is also expecting 375,000 arrivals for 2023-24 – more than the 315,000 forecast just seven months ago.
So far, immigration shows little sign of slowing down with 440,300 permanent and long-term arrivals, on a net basis, in the year to October, new data released on Tuesday showed.
With permanent migration for this financial year capped at 190,000, international students made up the bulk of annual arrivals with 38,790 of them coming to Australia in October alone.
Treasury is now predicting 1.6million permanent and long-term overseas arrivals in the five years to June 2027, a big jump from the 1.5million intake forecast during the last Budget.
But Labor argues migration would have grown by 1.8million over five years without its crackdown.
Here are the new measures outlined in Migration Strategy which the Department of Home Affairs unveiled on Monday.
International students who visa hop
The government has vowed to ‘apply additional scrutiny’ to international students applying for another student visa.
The Department of Home Affairs cited data showing a trend where students switched ‘particularly to courses that are below their current level of study, to prolong their stay in Australia has been growing’.
The number of international students staying in Australia on a second, or subsequent, student visa grew by more than 30 per cent to more than 150,000 in 2022–23.
The biggest growth in ‘visa hopping’ was with the vocational education and training sector where students are less likely to finish a course.
In 2022-23, 69,000 students were granted a subsequent student visa or shifted to a vocational course, compared with 42,000 students in 2018-19 before the pandemic.
A new genuine student test will require any eligible students applying inside Australia to provide evidence demonstrating any subsequent course will further their career, or complement their degree in their area of expertise.
This could include doing research to qualify for a postgraduate Masters degree.
‘Prospective international students who cannot demonstrate this sensible course progression from their initial course of study will not meet the genuine student test,’ the department said.
English language requirements
Students will now be required to score higher marks in an English language test, with the government arguing Australia’s existing requirements were less stringent than Canada.
Labor argued this was also designed to prevent workplace exploitation.
‘English proficiency has a clear and direct relationship with strong education and labour market outcomes,’ the department said.
This followed a separate Migration Review which found ‘lower English proficiency may make migrants more vulnerable to exploitation’.
To get a student visa, a foreigner must achieve an International English Language Testing System score of six out of nine, which would imply someone has ‘modest’ English proficiency.
This is far from the perfect score implying expert English proficiency or the band ‘seven’ score for ‘good’.
Target dodgy education providers
Dubious ‘high risk’ private education providers who market their courses as a pathway to permanent residency would face ‘targeted scrutiny’.
Ms O’Neil has ordered her department to prioritise student visa applications for low-risk education providers, which are more likely to include established universities.
But less reputable private colleges could face long waits in getting visas assessed.
‘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 department said.
The new rules are coming into effect by the end of this year in time for the 2023-24 student visa season.
Temporary graduate visa crackdown
Former student visa holders are entitled to a temporary graduate visa giving them the right to work in Australia after graduating.
The Migration Review found that former international students to be among the largest cohort of ‘permanently temporary’ migrants, with more than 50 per cent of them in low-skilled jobs.
This means they aren’t on a path to gaining the skilled work experience to become eligible for a skilled permanent visa.
Consequently, 19,000 students and graduates have remained in Australia for nine years.
‘These migrants cannot fully establish a life in Australia and face barriers in the labour market based on their temporary status.
To remedy this, the test score required to obtain a temporary graduate visa will increase.
This will require International English Language Testing System score of 6.5 out of 9 – up from 6 previously – which would imply a ‘competent’ level of English.
Specialist skilled pathway for those on $135,000 salary
Highly-skilled workers earning at least $135,000 will be eligible for a new specialist skills pathway designed to ‘drive innovation and job creation’.
Skilled migrants in this position will have to earn the same as Australian workers in the same occupation.
To qualify, they must be nominated by an approved employer and meet health and character requirements.
This will apply to any occupation except tradies, machinery operators and labourers won’t be eligible.
With unemployment still low at 3.7 per cent, the government argues prioritising a pathway for the top 10 per cent of income earners could add $3.4billion to the economy over the next decade ‘not accounting for the broader significant economic benefit to their employers and to the Australian economy’.