This article by Peter Hurley from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute in ‘the Conversation’, looks at the increase in ‘permanently temporary’ migrants in Australia. “These are people who have lived in the country for an extended period but have no path to permanent residency or citizenship.”

So, what changes in arrangements would help international students get jobs and stay in Australia, particularly those with ‘high potential’?

With borders closed during the pandemic, “we saw the number of international students in Australia fall. Since borders reopened in December 2021, the number of international students in Australia has returned to record levels.” The article tells us that:

“The government has also committed to expanding post-study work rights for international graduates. These rights enable former students in certain courses to stay for a period after their course. This can range from 18 months to six years.”

What are the issues and drivers?

Education institutions can play a vital role in driving the supply of temporary migrants because “enrolling in a university or vocational course can enable access to longer visas,” the article says. However, international students are required to demonstrate they are a “genuine” student, and not using a student visa to enter the country primarily to work, but the ability to work is an important consideration in student choice of destination country.

In Australia, Peter says, the courses that are most popular are “those that entitle students to post-study visas or are aligned to permanent migration pathways.” Indeed, “current and former international students are now the largest group of temporary migrants.” Thus, enrolling in certain courses gives access to the possibility of an extended visa, so “it is difficult to disentangle education decisions from migration decisions. In many ways, an international student is not just purchasing a course but also a multi-year visa.”

Another article by Peter tells us, that, in addition to working in carer roles:

“The 2016 census showed current and recently graduated international students made up about 2% of the total labour force. This student workforce is concentrated in areas reporting shortages. Before the pandemic, about 15% of waiters, 12% of kitchen hands and 10% of cooks and chefs were current or recently graduated international students. About 11% of commercial cleaners were current or recent international students.”

Universities also get more money from enrolling international students than those that are domestic. For the VET sector, however, there is a stark difference in where the students study. According to Peter’s article, in 2021:

“of the ten vocational institutions with the highest international enrolments, nine were private colleges who catered largely to international students. In five of these colleges, 100% of enrolments were international students. These enrolments are largely in courses such as business, cookery and hospitality.”

Only one of the ten was a TAFE. A recent article in the Age has also pointed to concerns that international students and others are rorting dual-study loophole by abandoning university courses for cheaper private colleges and “then go on to work instead of study.” The article reported that:

“A federal parliamentary inquiry into international education heard details last month of how, under the loophole, a student who enters Australia can drop out of their university course before being charged for their first semester, then study only at a vocational college.”

Overall the Age’s article makes interesting but concerning reading and raises the strong possibility of reputational damage to the international student market.

Time for another look?

The article points out that the migration review has highlighted how the increase in temporary migrants is a by-product of this growth in international student numbers and institutional revenue. However, Peter’s article suggests that “if we want to gain more control over the total pool of migrants, we need to examine the role of universities and vocational colleges.” So, this needs to be a topic of discussion and it may not be an easy one to have. It can begin, he suggests:

“by more closely examining the role of education institutions in the migration process. This could include better using these universities and vocational colleges in the process to identify “high potential” international students the migration review says Australia should aim to keep.”

In short, one of Peter’s articles suggests, “a better understanding of the link between international education, migration and employment can help inform policy that protects everyone’s interests in the sector.”