Australia reassures international students after 457 visa dropped

Australia's education sector is seeking to reassure that the recent removal of the Temporary Work 457 visa route does not impact on international students, with agents cited as a key channel in advising students.  

In a surprise announcement last week, the government said that the Subclass 457 visa for foreign workers would be abolished and replaced with a new Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa from March 2018.


The TSS will have a short-term stream of up to two years, and a medium-term stream of up to four years. There will be tighter rules for the TSS, including: labour market testing; a market salary rate assessment so that local workers cannot be undercut; two years' relevant work experience; and stricter English language requirements for the medium-term visa.


There will be the capacity for only one onshore renewal of the short-term stream, while the medium-term can be renewed onshore and provide a route to permanent residence after three years.


Following confusion from international students in Australia and the sector, Education Minister Simon Birmingham tweeted a picture that stated, "Australia warmly welcomes international students. Student visas remain unchanged." And The Australian reported Immigration Department figures showing that only around 6,000 international students transferred to a 457 visa last year, with most using other visa routes if they wanted to remain.


"The international education sector can take some comfort from the fact that student-related visas do not appear to be affected by this decision," said Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA).


"However, as with recent announcements coming out of the UK and the USA, the messaging to students hoping to study outside of their national borders will be critical." He warned, "It will be easy for students to think that part-time jobs and post-study work rights in Australia are somehow caught up in this 457 visa policy change.


"Education providers are therefore encouraged to reassure their education agent network that the 457 announcement will not impact on students."


There are currently more than 95,000 people in Australia on a 457 visa, with the highest proportion from India (24.6 per cent), followed by the UK (19.5) and China (5.8).


Rod Camm, CEO of the Australian Council of Private Education and Training (ACPET), warned of the dangers the development could have on perceptions of Australia.


"While there were no specific changes to student visa, announcements of visa tightening and the rhetoric used to support the changes does have a direct impact on the attractiveness of Australia as a destination," he said in his weekly association newsletter.


"International students are sophisticated and informed 'buyers' and do contemplate future employment opportunities in considering their study destinations. Any perceived over-tightening of migration conditions will discourage some students from choosing Australia as a study destination," he said, noting that some local media outlets in India and China had responded negatively to the change.


He welcomed Minister Birmingham's pledge that Australia remained a welcoming destination, and said that the industry peak bodies would continue to work with the government to ensure any negatives could be overcome.


Universities Australia said it held constructive talks with the government over its concerns, particularly regarding the recruitment of foreign academic staff through the visa streams, but said it was pleased with the confirmation that there were no changes to student visas and related work rights for students.  


But Professor Peter Høj, Chair of the Group of Eight (Go8), representing Australia's eight leading research-intensive universities, warned there was "potential for a perverse outcome" for the AUS$21 billion international education sector.


"Our universities operate in a truly international marketplace where we must compete against the best universities in the world for international students and academic talent," he said.


The Council of International Students Australia (CISA) said it had "heard a lot of international students concern regarding the removal of the 457 Visa", but said it was waiting for further clarification from the government before issuing a full statement.


In a joint media release announcing the removal of the 457 visa, Prime Minister, Malcom Turnbull, and Peter Dutton, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, said the new policy was designed to ensure that Australian workers were "given the absolute first priority for jobs".


They said that under the previous administration, record numbers of foreign workers were coming to Australia, but too many were not filling critical skills shortages. "We are making it easier for Australians to find work and we have restored order to our borders so we can ensure that foreign workers have an opportunity to arrive through the appropriate channels."



By Matthew Knott

News Editor