28 September 2011

Student visa program review -- still blaming the victims

Just over 10 years ago, in July 2001, amendments to the Migration Reguations allowed overseas students to stay in Australia and apply for permanent residence at the end of their studies. A new industry was born, offering courses designed exclusively for the study to PR pathway that had been opened up. Australian Immigration and Education regulators were on the back foot almost from day one, unable to keep up with the imaginative entrepreneurial skills of the free market "education providers". Just one example: when the rules for trade qualifications were changed to require students to complete 900 hours of work experience, training institutions teamed up with hairdressing salons and restaurants (often run by the same people) to exploit the free labour of students willing to work for nothing to get the necessary paperwork.

What became our third largest export industry, worth as much as $18 billion per year, ended up distorting the skilled migration program and clogging the immigration queue (the real one, not the imaginary queue of asylum seekers). Caught up in this were tens of thousands of young people from around the world, but predominantly from India and China, whose only crime had been to buy what the Australian government was selling, or knowingly allowing to be sold in its name. The response of the immigration bureaucrats was to blame the victims, claiming with barefaced dishonesty that no one had told prospective students they were supposed to be coming here for any purpose other than temporary study. I have commented on this previously.

Now a report commissioned by the government to prove that it was all somebody else's fault has done just that. The main feature of the Knight report's recommendations, which have been accepted en masse by the government, is a requirement that overseas students demonstrate that they are "genuine temporary entrants" (GTEs), with no intention of wanting to stay in Australia permanently after their studies. Not wanting to entirely massacre the geese laying those 18 billion golden eggs, however, students completing bachelor degrees or higher qualifications will be allowed to remain in Australia with work permission for two to four years. Any who pick up an employer or State sponsorship, or form a relationship with a local resident, may then qualify for permanent residence.

The promise has been replaced by an enticement, hopefully enough to keep the lucrative student market alive. Whatever long-term problems might arise (exploitation, incentive to commit fraud, family and social stress on young students, desperation -- see earlier comments) will be just that: long-term, beyond the next election, something that can be blamed on someone else at a later date.

I have previously noted that only one Australian journalist seems to have any understanding of, or care for, the victims of this decade of failed policy. Peter Mares' comments on the Knight report and his presentation to the TAFE Directors Australia 2011 National Conference in Sydney this month should remind everyone concerned with Australian immigration policy that asylum seekers are not the only issue.

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