In a recent commentary in the Australian newspaper, the economist, Judith Sloan, accused our political leaders of kow-towing to self-interest lobby groups intent on increasing Australia’s net migration against the wishes of the wider electorate. 

Implying, but not explicitly stating, there is some nefarious motivation, Ms Sloan singled out universities for strong arming politicians to “get their way”. The real motivation is in fact long term cuts to university funding by those same politicians. Starved of funding the education sector was forced to find an alternative source of income and did it very successfully. The international student industry is now the fourth largest export business in Australia. The “some billions” dismissed by the economist are in fact $40 billions and 240,000 jobs. 

What is the problem with having a growing number of students come to Australia?  Figures show the number of areas that benefit from these growing numbers, from accommodation to hospitality and tourism, and more. Students bring great diversity and vibrancy to Australia as well as their family to visit and spend money in the economy. This is not the 1950s. Remember, international student university places are in addition to places available to Australian residents – no-one’s place has been taken. 

And so what if the number of students who have completed studies and are granted a temporary visa has doubled since 2015. They may only stay if they are deemed eligible for a skilled graduate visa which allows them from 18 months to 4 years to work full-time and gain work experience post studies. Many countries offer the same. 

Ironically, I read Ms Sloan’s piece as I was preparing a submission supporting permanent residency for technicians on a type of employer sponsorship. Much of the submission evidence is around how the temporary visa holders are contributing to the training and upskilling of young Australians – vast swathes of them. 

Despite the much-criticised mid-pandemic decision by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to remove work restrictions for international students, it has never been harder to attain a permanency visa. 

The immigration levers were significantly changed in 2017, making it much more difficult (not easier as suggested) for an international student to gain permanent residency.  

For any employer sponsored visa, the applicant must undertake a detailed English test, and skilled independent applicants get more points for having a skilled partner.  States choose those with higher points and often favour families so you’re more likely to get two skilled migrants for the price of one.  The regional skilled visa holders need a skills assessment to get their visa, based on their qualifications and work experience in their occupation.  The occupations lists are based on labour market trends in the regions.  

What Minister Hawke’s decision does demonstrate though is the high demand for labour and that Australians were not lining up to work in industries such as hospitality, ag and aged care. 

The number of those eligible for a partner visa increased during the two budgets of the pandemic as the quotas were doubled in the budget. But those partners were all here onshore anyway and working full time. It makes sense to take advantage of the closed borders and finalise their visa applications.   

Australians by and large simply don’t know about the benefits of immigration because they are not educated to do so. The pollies use it to play political games and it has negative connotations as a result.  Not many have the courage to stand up and celebrate the fact that Australia is a great success story of multi-culturalism and that many of those migrants have brought innovation and a hard-working ethic to the nation.  Promoting jingoistic nationalism is a global phenomenon, polarising communities, but is neither healthy nor fruitful. It does not help us to expand; rather to contract in fear and insecurity.  

Of course, there’s room for improvement.  And frankly the government in my opinion has not taken enough advantage of this time to see how things could be done better. Immigration is vital for our success as a nation. No two ways about it.

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