Australia sets new record with international students

The number of international students in Australia has reached a historic high, exceeding 700,000 for the first time. This surge has contributed to a record total of 2.8 million temporary entrants in the country. According to data from the home affairs department published on data.gov.au, there were 713,144 international students in Australia as of February 29th.

Abul Rizvi, former deputy secretary of the immigration department, described this figure as an “all-time record,” marking an increase from 664,178 in September 2023. Despite this, Rizvi believes that more action is required from the government, especially considering their emphasis on permanent migration over temporary migration.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese acknowledged the impact of border closures during the pandemic, leading to a higher influx of temporary migrants, particularly students. He mentioned plans to implement a migration strategy aimed at reducing these numbers.

Rizvi concurred with Albanese’s assessment, noting that while the population figures as of September 2023 were close to projections, they would likely deviate by the end of 2024. The Albanese government has initiated several measures recommended in the migration review released in December, including adjustments to English language requirements for student visas and enhanced scrutiny on international students’ study intentions and economic circumstances.

Additionally, measures have been introduced to prevent the misuse of visitor visas as a means to bypass offshore student visa integrity checks. Forecasts indicate a significant decline in net overseas migration by next year, representing the largest decrease in Australia’s migration history outside of pandemic and wartime contexts.

A spokesperson for Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil highlighted the impact of recent changes on the international education sector, with visa grants declining by 35% in February compared to the previous year. Measures are ongoing to restore migration to sustainable levels and enhance integrity in this sector.

However, Rizvi expressed concerns that the government might resort to reactionary rather than prudent measures to reduce migration levels. He criticized proposals, such as increasing international student visa application fees, as shortsighted policies that could deter high-quality students from choosing Australia as their study destination.

In February, the Grattan Institute proposed a controversial solution to increase international student visa application fees to $2,500, with the aim of funding a boost in Commonwealth rent assistance. Rizvi argued against this approach, deeming it as poor long-term policy that could dissuade top-tier students who have multiple options for studying abroad.

The dynamics surrounding international student migration and broader immigration policies remain complex. While there’s acknowledgment of the need to manage migration levels and ensure integrity within the system, finding a balanced approach that doesn’t compromise Australia’s attractiveness as a destination for international students is crucial.

The ongoing implementation of measures to scrutinize student intentions, tighten visa regulations, and curb misuse of visitor visas reflects the government’s commitment to addressing these challenges.

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