09 March 2011

Who holds the stakes in the student visa program?

The government has commissioned a Discussion Paper entitled Strategic Review of the Student Visa Program, and called for submissions: http://www.immi.gov.au/students/student-submissions/

It contains a few gems, like: "Unsurprisingly discussions with regulators, providers and other stakeholders including students, suggest that not all education providers are the same". Hidden within that dreadful consultant-speak term "stakeholders" is the root of the problem, since amongst those holding a stake in this goldmine are precisely those education providers who only exist, could only exist, because of the fast-buck mentality on which the student visa program was built.

The paper discovers that "there now appears" to be a view that "some providers, and their agents, did manipulate the system primarily for migration outcomes rather than educational outcomes".

The term manipulate suggests that the system was somehow distorted, that those "migration outcomes" were not what was intended. This view appears again in what the paper calls "migration risk", defined as an absence of "willingness to study and return to their home country upon completion of study".

Apparently those wily providers, and their agents, somehow managed to sneak into the Governor-General's office and issue regulations under the Migration Act creating visa classes like 885 and 886, which were specifically, uniquely, entirely designed to create "migration outcomes" for overseas students.

The government, of course, bears no responsibility for all of this. In the end, the easiest group to blame are the students themselves, some of whom, the paper tells us, "came to Australia to undertake an education in order to gain permanent residence without any intention of undertaking employment related to their course of study".

Of course they did, that was the product they were sold, with the full blessing of the Australian government. No, it wasn't those corrupt agents who created the 885 and 886 visas, it was the Australian government. They allowed the fast-buck stakeholders to grow into the country's third largest export industry, fuelled by the savings and borrowings of aspirational families in India, China, Nepal, Vietnam.

The shame of this episode in Australian immigration history, and the damage it has done to the reputation of Australian education, will take a long time to fade. A bit of willingness to accept blame on the part of the government would help a bit, though.