The Australian government is set to enhance visa regulations for international students and low-skilled workers, potentially reducing its migrant intake by half over the next two years. This move comes as the center-left government seeks to revamp what it perceives as a “broken” migration system. The plan, which Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil will outline on Monday, includes higher minimum English-language requirements for students and greater scrutiny of those seeking a second visa to prolong their stay there.
Amid one of the tightest labor markets in the world, Australia has long relied on immigration to fill jobs and help drive its economy. The latest policy moves are designed to curb an out-of-control flow of migrants and ease pressure on housing and social services.
O’Neil said the new policies would bring the annual migrant intake down to more sustainable levels and act against exploitation without jeopardizing the government’s ability to attract workers for sectors where skills are needed, such as hospitals and aged care. The government will also expand a new specialist visa for highly-skilled people in growth industries like cyber and green technology and impose a minimum $70,000 salary threshold, up from $1.35 lakh a year, to help those seeking permanent residency.
The government will also impose higher minimum English-language requirements for students and increase the scrutiny of those seeking a second visa to extend their stay in the country, which currently stands at around 650,000. The plans will also include more restrictions on post-study work rights, limiting how many years graduates can spend on a Temporary Graduate Visa and reducing the number of countries where they can work.
India is a top destination for international students, accounting for about a fifth of the total entrants to Australia. However, some universities scrutinize Indian student applications amid concerns that bogus students are taking up spots. Edith Cowan University, Victoria University, and Southern Cross University have reportedly imposed restrictions on undergraduate admissions from Punjab and Haryana in response to reports of bogus visa applications.
Earlier this year, Australia registered a rise in attempts to obtain student visas through fraud, including by students from India. The government has set up a visa integrity unit with initial funding of about 19 million dollars to identify and stop such students from entering the country.
But the new strategy will not affect Indians studying in Australia as commitments made under the bilateral Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement will be upheld, High Commissioner Philip Green said on Monday. “We welcome high-quality students, and we will continue to do all we can to protect them,” he said. The changes to the visa regime will come into effect in 2022, although they will be phased in over five years to allow the impact to be assessed. The new policies will have a minor impact on Indians as they will be subject to the same restrictions as other international students.