The end of the Student Visa golden era?

Australian Pacific College
Australian Pacific College

The Australian Government is under pressure to make changes to the student visa program to address labour shortages by what they’ve termed, attracting the “best and brightest” from around the globe. At the same time provide well overdue regulatory oversight of unethical and potentially illegal activities that exploit vulnerable international students. 

Having personally seen the Australian international education sector develop from a cottage industry to the third largest services export over the past 30 years, I have cause for concern that the current Government responses may either be too broad and be just a duct tape solution or further increase unwarranted regulatory burden with unintentional consequences. 

A duct tape solution is shortsighted and a case of kicking-the-can-down-the-road for the next decision maker to fix and leaving the underlying problems unaddressed. Successful entrepreneurs know that to add value you need to address the real “problem to be solved”. Too often we spend 99% of our resources trying to find a solution instead of framing the problem. We then fall in love with the solution (or product), our ego gets in the way and we then spend our energy selling this shiny new solution and looking for a problem to solve. We consult those who will confirm our case (confirmation bias) and after we’ve spent too much time and money on it, the embarrassment of high sunk costs will ensure the purported solution is blindly pursued irrespective of whether there is a demand for it or if the client really needs it. 

The ESOS Act is not the problem. Private Providers are not the problem. Prospective Student Visa applicants are not the problem. To be clear, there are many aspects that need to be refined, but Australia’s international education sector is a global success story to celebrate; we are all beneficiaries of the amazing collaborative efforts between industry and government in promoting Australian values. 

The Government already has regulatory powers and with industry-led associations, an engaged sector willing to support sustainable growth. The proof is in the fact that there are so many providers, agents and staff who have been in the industry for over 20 years or more. We should be cooperating to make oversight more enduring and explicit; not just as a one-off overreaction. 

Let’s pause and ask:
What proof is there that increasing the English proficiency levels makes a student more “genuine”? What proof is there that banning commissions will make the student experience better? Will putting a cap on student visas damage our reputation and divert investment to other markets, which in turn takes a long time to recover as we have seen with supply chain issues during COVID? If temporary migration exacerbates the housing crisis, why is it only student visas being blamed for it and not other temporary migration visas such as travel and working visas? 

Given all the uncertainties with the regulators at present, the message coming across is loud and clear. 

Student Visas will become harder, not easier to apply for. It is not a question of IF, but WHEN

How does attracting just the brightest and most talented align with Australia’s fair-go ethos? Educators know that your current and past results are not an indicator of your future potential. Imagine if our teachers made decisions on teaching priorities based on such outdated, misguided and inequitable pedagogy. This is a fixed mindset, the opposite of a growth mindset, and only serves to narrow the diversity of people we wish to attract.  

Some recently reported data indicates there is still approximately 120,000 people on the Pandemic Event Visa (408) of which it’s been estimated that 30-40% were formerly on student visas, equivalent to approximately 40,000 students. Once you include current other visa holders (travel, working and graduate visa holders), and the usual student visa extensions, you could conservatively argue that between now and August 2024 (when the 408 visas will finally cease to exist) there will be approximately 100,000 onshore people (in addition to the current offshore volumes) seeking a Student Visa. It needs to be noted that they will not impact the housing crisis as they are already here and providing much needed labour and contributing to the economic growth of the country. 

We understand that the Government is reluctant to give more than 48 hours’ notice of any such changes to mitigate a rush of applications. We urge you to help these people make informed decisions by encouraging them to act now while the student visa application process and requirements are at least known. Forewarned is to be forearmed.

David Yoo
Managing Director
APC Education Group