Australia hikes visa fees for international student

The Albanese government has more than doubled the international student visa application fee from $710 to $1,600 as part of a new measure to reduce arrivals to Australia. This move, announced on Monday, confirms pre-budget speculation in the tertiary education sector that fee hikes, along with an international student cap, will be used to lower net migration.

However, Labor plans to ease this measure for Pacific neighbours and Timor-Leste, with a government spokesperson stating that “special arrangements will be put in place recognizing Australia’s close relationship” with these countries.

The increase has faced criticism from Abul Rizvi, former deputy secretary of the immigration department, and the International Education Association of Australia, warning that the sector faces a “death by a thousand cuts.” In 2022-23, Australia had a net migration gain of 528,000 people, largely due to the lifting of Covid restrictions and an influx of international students and temporary workers. The May budget projects this number will drop to 260,000 in 2024-25 as the government implements measures to reduce arrivals, including caps on international student numbers.

Rizvi and Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association, predict a decline in applications from prospective students due to Australia’s fees being uncompetitive globally. Rizvi calls it “really poor, short-term thinking,” arguing it will deter good students with other options. Honeywood likens the situation to “death by 1,000 cuts,” highlighting recent job losses in the sector, such as 6% of IDP Education’s global workforce, and warning of further layoffs.

Honeywood also criticizes the government for seeking new revenue sources to fund the Universities Accord implementation, rather than addressing quality issues. He notes that four in ten visas are now being refused, making it less attractive for students to choose Australia over other countries like the USA.

In April, the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia called the fee hike a “job killer.” Federal Education Minister Jason Clare stated that the fee increase would “strengthen integrity in the international education system and help fund important reforms” recommended by the Universities Accord, including fairer Hecs, paid internships, and expanding fee-free university courses.

From 1 July, reforms include raising the minimum wage for temporary workers to qualify for a skilled visa to $73,150, shortening the duration of temporary graduate visas, and reducing age eligibility. Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the changes would help restore integrity to the international education system and create a fairer, smaller migration system better suited to Australia’s needs.

Luke Sheehy, chief executive of Universities Australia, warned that ongoing policy pressure could harm Australia’s reputation as a leading provider of international education. Sheehy expects the latest measure to reduce student visa applications as intended by the government, but believes vocational education and training (VET) will be more affected than higher education.

Vicki Thomson, chief executive of the Group of Eight, which enrolls over 30% of the nation’s international students, criticized the decision as a “blatant revenue-raising move” disguised as a measure to deter low-quality students. She argues it will discourage international students, especially given the recent crackdown on visa approvals, which signals that Australia is not open for business. She contends that international students are being used as cash cows to support the economy, national research, and other government initiatives.

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