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Record number of student visas in Australia, leading to fears of a crash

Within a period of 14 months, the number of student visa holders in Australia surged by more than 85%, indicating a historic high in the number of student visas granted in Australia.

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Within a period of 14 months, the number of student visa holders in Australia surged by more than 85% from 315,949 in December 2021 to 585,847 in February 2023, indicating a historic high in the number of student visas granted in Australia. This surge was accompanied by a record-breaking net arrival of 270,300 student visa holders in the year leading up to February 2023, more than double the previous record of 125,000 set in mid-2009.

In February of this year, Arpit Goel arrived in Australia on a student visa with expectations that were quickly shattered. Contrary to what he had heard from his friends, his experience was far from glamorous. He struggled to find affordable accommodation and could not secure employment.

According to Goel, “There are so many students in Wollongong but so few jobs. I am anxious about how I will pay my tuition fees next semester. I had the impression that students could easily find employment and earn good money. However, even Uber driving isn’t an option for me because every other student is already delivering.”

Arpit’s experience is relatable for many international students in Australia, given the country’s record-high number of international students.

Unprecedented boom

Australia has seen an unprecedented boom in international students as more visas have been granted in the last two months of 2022 than ever before. According to Dr Abul Rizvi, a former deputy secretary of the Department of Immigration and Migration law expert, Australia granted an astonishing 96,578 onshore student visas and 55,878 vocational education and training sector (VET) student visas in November and December 2022. It is is more than four and five times, respectively, the previous record.

“The Department of Home Affairs was reportedly rubber-stamping just about every application,” said Dr Rizvi in a recent article.

The surge in student visa applications is attributed to the decision made by the previous Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke, to grant international students unrestricted work rights, which “not only trashed the reputation of Australia’s international education industry…but also provided education agents with an extraordinary marketing tool,” Rizvi said.

This policy change, in turn, resulted in the record number of offshore student visa applications being exceeded by 20% to 30% every month post-COVID.

The Albanese Government, on the other hand, is also responsible for the explosion in student visas. At the Jobs & Skills Summit held last September, the government took several measures to encourage international student arrivals.

These included extending the unlimited work cap by one year, extending post-study work rights by two years, and increasing the permanent migrant intake by 35,000 to a record high of 195,000. These changes increased the likelihood of students being able to gain permanent residency in Australia.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Abul Rizvi cautions that the exceptional growth in the number of international students may come to an abrupt and unfortunate end, leaving numerous students in a state of “immigration limbo.”

In addition, he said that the re-imposition of restricted student work rights would likely lead to a substantial portion of students struggling to pay student fees, exorbitant rent for accommodation, and the rising cost of living.

On the other hand, according to Ms Chaman Preet from Migration and Education Experts based in Melbourne, the influx of students has contributed to Australia’s economic recovery post-Covid.

“Following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Australia experienced a severe shortage of labour and skills, prompting the government to review its policies and prioritize economic recovery. As a result, more visas were allocated to individuals with skills that could aid Australia’s resurgence. The education industry was among the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic, which required significant assistance. The surge in the number of students benefitted the sector and aided small businesses facing a severe labour crunch,” argues Ms Chaman Preet.

Experts are advocating for a comprehensive review of the student visa system to prevent students from being stranded in “immigration limbo” and struggling to make ends meet. However, according to Dr. Rizvi, the review should concentrate on attracting a smaller group of outstanding and authentic students.

Read More: Bridging Visa holders in Australia at their lowest in four years

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