Home Affairs is desperately trying to cope with a huge surge in overseas student visa applications, many of which are lured by the prospect of unlimited employment rights. Reports by Dr. Abul Rizvi.
AFTER FORMER Prime Minister Scott Morrison told temporary entrants to Australia to ‘go home’denied most universities JobKeeper and denied any real support for temporary entrants stranded in Australia, many commentators felt that Australia would struggle to attract overseas students once the pandemic was over.
These commentators overlooked the allure of the unlimited work rights for students that former immigration minister Alex Hawke would later offer. While Hawke’s policy would undermine the reputation of Australia’s international education industry, it would also generate a massive increase in overseas student visa applications from students more interested in work than study.
Since the reopening of international borders, student arrivals and departures have accelerated rapidly (see graph 1).
The excess of 97,350 student arrivals over departures during the period from December 2021 to March 2022 was to be expected given the number of students who had been barred from entering during the pandemic. Although there is a traditional net outflow of students in June, this did not occur in June 2022 – instead there was a slight excess of arrivals over departures.
There was the traditional excess of student arrivals over departures in July and August 2022 and a non-traditional excess of student arrivals in September 2022 – traditionally a month when there is an excess of departures over arrivals.
Offshore Applications and Grant Rates
But movement data can often obscure what is really happening. The offshore visa application numbers give us a better indication of the level of interest in studying/working in Australia, while the grant rates tell us how the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is handling the workload.
Applications for student visas abroad vary significantly from month to month. June is traditionally a strong month for offshore student visa applications while July, August and September are traditionally low demand months (see chart 2).
In 2022, international student applications in June, July, August and September set new records by a significant margin.
In June 2022, there were 42,700 student visa applications abroad, with the second highest number of June applications being 34,343 in June 2018. In July 2022, there were 30,801 student applications abroad, with the second highest figure in July being 25,152 in 2019.
In August 2022, there were 25,580 international student applications, the second highest figure in August being 19,201 in 2018. In September 2022, there were 24,344 international student applications, the second highest figure high in September being 18,142 in 2018.
In each month from June to September 2022, the number of overseas student visa applications exceeded the previous record for that month by at least 5,000.
But that’s not translating into similar records of foreign student visa grants, as grant rates have dropped significantly, particularly in September (see chart 3).
It is likely that the lower grant rates are partly due to the fact that the DHA has seen increased levels of workload fraud as well as a shift in countries of origin. The DHA may also make greater use of the “genuine temporary admission” requirement as a basis for denying requests.
For a department under high resource pressure as well as pressure to expedite processing, a heavy workload with low grant rates due to either fraud or the use of a criterion subjective as “genuine temporary admission” represents a major waste of resources. The DHA desperately needs to find a different way to handle the number of foreign student visa cases.
He may be hoping that the recently announced overhaul of the migration system will find a solution. In this regard, the Albanian government has announced that Australia will return to restricted working rights for overseas students from July 1, 2023.
This is the right thing to do if we want our international education industry to focus on delivering quality education. But there needs to be a clear transition plan that alerts students and change agents, explains how limited work rights will be enforced, and helps students who now rely on unlimited work rights manage the transition.
Dr Abul Rizvi is an Australian freelance columnist and a former undersecretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @Rizvi Abul.
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