Home | International Education | Migration plan’s new international student rules
Minister for Home Affairs Clare O Neil holds a press conference at the Fairfield council chambers with local federal member Chris Bowen and local Mayors. Picture: NCA Newswire / John Grainger

Migration plan’s new international student rules

The Albanese government's new 10-year migration plan aims to fix our 'broken' system by lowering the number of migrants travelling to Australia to sustainable and controlled levels.

Tightening rules and creating new visa types for international students is a large part of the immigration overhaul after a record 510,000 overseas students were accepted into tertiary education courses this year.

One of the plan's eight key strategies is "strengthening the integrity and quality of international education".

It commits to a private college shakeup, a stronger English language test and more rigorous standards for visa re-applications to ensure students are coming to Australia to study, not work.

What's changing

Currently, temporary students can 'visa hop' by re-applying for studies or changing their course to gain faster employment and stay in Australia longer whilst doing unskilled work.

The new plan's more comprehensive application process hopes to stop this, instead favouring visa applications from highly skilled workers who will help fix our skills crisis.

Potential 'visa hopper' applicants will be labelled as high-risk students that drive 'permanent temporariness', and their visas will face slower and more complicated processes.

International students are our biggest cohort of 'permanently temporary' migrants, with 108,000 having stayed in Australia for five or more years, with many reapplying to study courses that are easier or less 'in-demand' than their original application.

A 'skills in demand' visa will replace the current 'temporary skills shortage' visa to action the changed processes and outline clearer pathways for migrant students through three sub-categories.

The specialist skills visa pathway will take on highly skilled workers, focusing on the short-staffed technology and green energy industries.

The core skills visa pathway requirements will change with a regularly updated list of occupations Australia needs at any particular time to meet workforce demands.

A yet-to-be-announced essential skills pathway will focus on hiring in labour jobs with worker shortages that offer lower incomes. 

The three pathways feed into another roadmap in the plan that will crack down on misusing the visa system to exploit migrant workers; along with $19m to be invested into a home affairs student visa integrity unit.

Finally, students will be required to pass a more rigorous English language test if they want to study at an Australian university, which the strategy says will also lower the risk of migrant worker exploitation and ensure students are genuinely here to study instead of work.

The International English Language Testing System requires a score of 5.5 from students on visas, but that number will be raised to 6.0, and from 6.0 to 6.5 for students applying for graduate visas.

A crackdown on poor quality education

A 2023 review of Australia's migration system found its processes were 'so badly broken' that a 10-year plan was needed to completely shake up how we accept immigrants.

University bodies have overall accepted the migration plan, although there is some concern that the heavier restrictions might scare international students away from studying at an Australian university.

Chief executive of Universities Australia (UA) Catriona Jackson told Sky News the strategy will 'close loopholes' that do a disservice to Australia and international students.

"These are good changes. International students who are coming here for genuine reasons to study at our world-class universities have nothing to be concerned about," she said.

"This is about getting to students who might not want to be a student – they're actually after a job outcome instead."

Ms Jackson said 'shonky operators' that 'enrol' international students in a university with a high reputation, only to later transfer them to a dodgy institution, need to be stopped.

"I suppose what's of concern here is students who sign up, say for a Bachelor of Science at the Australian National University, or they want to do architecture at the University of Melbourne, they come along and then they're lured by someone to go off and do something quite different," she explained.

"A short course, fairly low value and a skill that Australia's not really all that keen on."

However, the UA chief told ABC NewsRadio students won't see much of a change in terms of the new language requirements, because "Australian universities have higher than the minimum standards already."

Chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia Phil Honeywood also told the ABC he doesn't think the restrictions will affect mainstream university numbers, but more so private colleges.

He also said the $40bn overseas students bring to Australia each year can't be discounted.

"Obviously 40 per cent of public university research and shiny buildings come off the back of international fees," he said.

"However, thankfully, the government have targeted the lower end of the ecosystem, the private colleges where many of them are not providing a quality of education.

"The government focused on the back-end where too many young people are graduating and staying in the country, and not getting course-related employability."

However, chief executive of the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia Troy Williams said the plan is problematic and based on inaccurate data about education quality from a broken visa processing system.

Mr Williams said the new rules could diminish the image of all Australian unis, especially reputable independent education providers.

"The language in the migration strategy is reckless and ignores the high-quality skills training outcomes that the majority of international students in Australia receive," he said.

"The reports of irregularities are not isolated incidents but rather, represent a troubling pattern over a considerable period that requires urgent attention as there is arguably a systematic failure in the student visa processing arrangements that renders the system not fit for purpose."

Minister for Home Affairs Clare O'Neil said in a Monday press conference that the package will instead raise Australia's standing on the international study stage, as other possible reforms loom for overseas students.

"[Universities] do not want Australia to be known as a country where you come here, you get exploited, you don't get educated properly and frankly the course you signed up on wasn't quite what it looked like," the minister said.

"So we've got a bit of a repair job to do … the things we are doing are important for that sector. They're generally supported by providers of education and that's because they know we've got to fix this, otherwise it will really go off the rails."

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