It’s hard to believe that with a job for every person in the unemployment queue in Australia that we’d turn away anyone with skills.

If you’ve tried being served a coffee in a coastal town or been unlucky to be on the 50% of delayed or cancelled flights around Australia these past school holidays, you’ll know we are crying out for workers… especially skilled ones.

Until the pandemic, Australia’s international education industry was our 3rd largest export and was responsible for 250,000 jobs and contributed $40 billion to the economy. International students, once they graduated, made up a good proportion of skilled migrants in Australia… to the betterment of our society and economy.

During the pandemic we sent them away and we’re being very slow to let them back. In India, once a rich vein of international students for Australia the marketing is falling on deaf ears. In fact, the UK and Canada have stolen the drop on us with surging enrollments.

So why are there record numbers of refusals of student visas and such long processing delays coming from the Department of Home Affairs?

The Australian Strategy for International Education, agreed on and released just last year, committed the government to prioritise diversity (students from a wider range of countries, not just China) as well as offering more pathways to permanent residence for international students, in recognition of the skillsets and valuable contribution they bring to the country’s economy.  In Latin America, despite the distance, Australia is still seen as an attractive study destination.

So, what’s going on? According to a recent paper released by Home Affairs, education and migration agents are to blame for the number of refusals and delays! The Department states that the numbers of applications are high, but many are low quality. The truth is red tape is strangling the industry. Many refusals are based on the outdated notion the student has to prove they will return to their home country post studies which leads to inconsistent and subjective decisions being made arbitrarily, when stats show that 1 in 7 students go home anyway – oh and aren’t they supposed to be a solution to Australia’s skills shortage?  One migration agent recently submitted similar applications for twin siblings with identical circumstances where one was refused and the other approved. Red tape and subjectivity at its finest.

It’s clear that a lack of foresight and planning as well as a skills shortage within government itself, has led to the backlogs and visa pain felt by education and migration agents and their clients. To apportion blame to a loyal and faithful cohort of supporters of Australia and its international education, who have already done it tough these last 2.5 years, is pretty dismal to say the least.   For those already fed up with the long wait for their clients, it’s not hard to switch off the tap and redirect their clients to countries elsewhere worldwide, who yes, may also have long queues but at least have the gumption to respect those who assist their economy.  Leadership must come from the top, and to allow an important Department to get away with this type of behaviour whilst purportedly supporting the industry from on high is not good enough.  It’s time to change our tune once and for all, Australia, and educate the public accordingly.

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