OVERSEAS student applications plunged 40 per cent last month following “abrupt and rapid” changes to Australia’s visa regime, the country’s peak education agent warned yesterday.
The crackdown on student visas, coupled with uncertainty caused by the continuing delay to the priority skills list, could cost Australia at least $600 million in lost export revenue, IDP chief Tony Pollock told The Australian.
“Last month, there was a significant decline in applications from India, Vietnam and China. It’s a concern,” Mr Pollock said.
“If there’s a 10 per cent decline over a full year–with each student adding around $30k to the economy–that would be a $600m shortfall, conservatively,” he said.
China and India are Australia’s top two source countries for the $17 billion overseas student industry, which employs 125,000 people across the economy, and funds 25 per cent of university teaching.
Melbourne University migration visa expert Lesleyanne Hawthorne said this week the government’s policy changes were having the desired effect.
“The 13 per cent enrolment growth for universities over the past year is correcting the recent mass migration-driven shift to the vocational sector,” Professor Hawthorne said.
Mr Pollock said universities could not “take too much comfort” from the official March enrolment figures for the industry referred to by Professor Hawthorne, given the pipeline effect.
Universities faced “a pretty tough couple of years” as the crackdown hit student visas that packaged preparatory courses with a university entry option once qualified.
The financial and educational bona fides of students on dual packages were traditionally assessed on the lower risk profile applying to higher education.
The Immigration Department, however, said packaging was being exploited to reduce the stringency of checks, and it has imposed the stricter assessments applying to lower-level courses.
“It’s tougher to get a student visa, which means people are questioning whether they will ever get a (permanent) visa for Australia, and whether they should look elsewhere to get an education,” Mr Pollock said.
“Announcing suspensions of visa categories–even though they aren’t student visa classes–and delaying the Skilled Occupation List doesn’t help confidence,” he said.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans has said changes to the skilled migration program would remove incentives for overseas students to apply for a course to win residency.
Mr Pollock welcomed efforts to clean up the industry, but called on the government to keep the skilled migration pathway open for international students.
“Offering students the prospect of permanent residency–but only if they are sponsored by an employer–is a very uncertain outcome for those craving certainty,” he said.
Similarly, Universities Australia has told the government that preserving a “quality link between education and migration” was essential to avoid handing global markets to Europe, North America and Asia.