Australia’s visa slowdown: we want “sustainable growth” says MP

Published 01/03/2024

Australian MP Julian Hill has told The PIE that the country is in a “transition period” when it comes to visa issuance as it is applying enhanced scrutiny to visa applications.

The country is seeking to rout the operators bringing the industry’s reputation into disrepute, he explained. A return to previous high levels of visa acceptance is not likely.

“Sustainable growth at times doesn’t always mean ever more and more students,” Hill noted, in an exclusive interview with The PIE. “There’s a legitimate social licence question that all countries need to grapple with.”

Citing the Nixon report, published in October 2023 – which reported on exploitation of the visa system – Hill said “the government makes no apologies for its significantly enhanced focus on integrity and raising the bar”.

The sector has been complaining of brakes being applied in visa issuance – Australian press reported a group of 16 VCs wrote to ministers warning of massive financial damage risked by the visa freeze or denials happening.

But Hill’s comments indicate that the government is determined to rightside the sector in terms of managed, more carefully monitored, access.

“The success and sustainability of Australia’s onshore sector requires a ruthless focus on quality education and a great student experience,” said Hill. “There are parts of the sector where things are not where they need to be.”

The visa squeeze does seem to have everyone in the sector worried.

The government agreed last year with the majority of the recommendations from the Nixon review, and said that an immigration compliance division would be established by the Department of Home Affairs.

Hill acknowledged that not every visa decision made might be correct but said the system was operating in a period of adjustment to a new quality-first approach that would ultimately benefit all international students.

“No doubt, like in every country, not every individual visa decision is right”

“We’re in a transition period. People are adjusting to that. And no doubt, like in every country, not every individual visa decision is right.”

“Just as some people get through in every country that shouldn’t, some people get rejected that are genuine students where the evidence may not have been strong enough, or accepted. But we are trying to raise the bar in transition.”

Hill underlined that Australia absolutely wanted to welcome good quality students and ensure they receive an education that offers them a good ROI and enhances future opportunities.

Referencing the trade subcommittee inquiry into Australia’s tourism and international education sectors, Hill said, “I’ve raised the question, and it’s a provocative question, but why would Australia continue to recruit large numbers of students to study very low value qualifications, with no skilled migration pathway and little apparent return on investment?”

“There are many good providers in private VET and private higher ed that offer a terrific product”

“We need to continue to send the message that Australia values international education, welcomes international students, whilst maintaining a focus on quality.”

Hill also underlined that offshore partnerships were another area of opportunity for Australia’s quality education providers – which included private operators.

“There are many good providers in private VET and private higher ed that offer a terrific product,” he said, “but they’re being undercut by problems that have accumulated over many years under the previous government at the bottom end of the private VET sector. And we’re determined to deal with those.”

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