Migration overhaul targets bogus international students and employers

Steep new fees for foreign investors

A plan to fix a faltering migration system will take aim at bogus international students and unscrupulous employers while trying to reduce overall migration.

International students and exploitative employers will face greater scrutiny as the government tries to rein in migration levels from historic highs and reform a broken system.

Overseas net migration peaked during the last financial year as 500,000 people arrived in Australia, hundreds of thousands more than past years.

This was largely caused by the return of international students and tourists after the population shrank during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although things have generally returned to normal, the number of migrants is expected to remain elevated, and the government wants to bring this down to “sustainable levels”.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil will unveil a plan on Monday that could return migration to pre-pandemic numbers by the next financial year and halve net overseas migration to 250,000 by 2025.

“Our migration strategy is a bold plan to get migration working again for all Australians,” she said.

A March review conducted by former public servant Martin Parkinson, provided 38 recommendations after discovering the Australian migration system was not “fit-for-purpose”.

Not only did it fail to attract highly skilled migrants, it has facilitated worker exploitation among lower-paid migrants by creating power imbalances that unscrupulous employers abuse.

The review also pointed to abuses of the international student acceptance systems, which have allowed non-genuine students to enrol in purely credential courses that provide a pipeline to the Australian labour market, threatening the integrity of the international education system.

In response, the government’s migration strategy has outlined eight actions to reform the system including boosting pathways for skilled migration like new types of visas, cracking down on worker exploitation, simplifying the visa process and addressing the international education system in particular.

Because students make up a significant majority of migrant numbers, the government proposes applying greater scrutiny to student visa applications from high-risk providers. It wants to increase minimum English language requirements for student visas and shorten graduate visas to prevent migrants from prolonging their time in Australia if they have no prospects to become permanent residents, as this can increase their risk of exploitation.

The language requirements alone would prevent tens of thousands of students and graduates from receiving visas.

The government also hopes to strengthen graduate visas to bolster the prospects of genuine international students.

This is because more than half of graduate visa holders are working significantly below their skill level, even those who graduated from degrees tied to skill shortages such as engineering and IT.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson welcomed the plan and said it would “make it easier for students to navigate”.

Meanwhile, the government has already taken action on employers who exploit migrant workers: introducing legislation with powers and penalties to punish them, proposing protections against visa cancellations for exploited migrants and putting priority on protection visa applications.

The strategy also commits to developing a public register of approved sponsors to bolster oversight and suggests improving post-arrival monitoring and compliance through coordinated efforts with the tax system.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the strategy was carefully crafted to balance the needs of the country with the national economic interest.

“We want to make sure that migration is not a substitute for training Australians, but is a complement to that,” he said on Sunday.

“We will always need more skills in our economy and our migration strategy is about better targeting that migration, it’s about cracking down on rorts and it’s about ensuring that we get the migrants that we need to grow our economy including by making sure that we have the skills that we need.”


Topics: migration
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