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Overseas Students Fall Victim to Immigration Law Change

Submitted by on May 12, 2010 – 5:24 pm10 Comments

Fly high? Fly away?

Overseas students seeking to land Australian residency after they graduate have become victims of tougher rules for skilled migration.

This month the Department of Immigration and Citizenship will announce a new Skilled Occupation List for Migration (SOL) and changes to other visa categories, which will jeopardize many students’ plans to use study as a path to migration.

Reports have suggested the changes will reduce or end students’ ability to use their studies of in-demand trades such as cookery and accounting to support applications for permanent residency.

According to the coverage in Sydney Morning Herald visa reviews may ‘spark panic’  amongst those of the 137,000 overseas students in Australia who have made, or intend to make, applications.

In 2001 the Howard government encouraged migration-driven international student enrolments, allowing any overseas student who had completed post-school qualifications in Australia to apply for a skilled permanent residency visa.

Under the government’s system a ‘skilled migrant’ had to get 120 points to get permanent residency. A qualification on the SOL list is worth 60 points, and one on the MODL (Migration Occupations in Demand List) is worth 65 points.

Yet now the MODL has been abolished and the number of SOL categories will be reduced.

According to Wesa Chau, honorary president of the Australian Federation of International Students, said. “Students who pay to study in Australia and have a secondary aim to seek permanent residency after they finish their course are now left directionless.”

Nalumi Qin, from ACIC (Australia College Information Center), said 95% student clients of hers had planned to immigrate and 90% of them were now affected by these policy changes.

Change plans as the policy changing

Qiuchen Xie, studying in a TAFE school in Sydney, has been in Australia for four years. He said the ongoing changes to immigration policy brought many troubles to him. “ I thought I wanted to stay in Australia and I changed my major from Marketing to Cookery after one and half years studying, because it was easy to get immigration by studying courses like Cookery and Hairdressing.”

“ After I got the certification and passed the Professional Assessment Test, the policy changed the requirement of IELTS test for immigration. When I passed it, the policy changed again and they took off the Cookery from the list, so it’s a waste of last two years’ studying.”

Xie said he would wait for the new SOL and continue to study an on-list major in Australia with the hope to immigrate successfully before the policy changes again.

Suffer great expenses

Qiwen Guan recently changed her 2-year course in Accounting to 1.5-year one, when she knew her major couldn’t help her get permanent residency.

She said: “The tuition in my university rise up every year, and the housing rent and transportation fee is getting more and more expensive, so I want to finish my degree as soon as possible and go back to find a good job. Staying here is just wasting the money and time.”

She chose her course just because her agent in China told her it could help her immigrate to Australia. “If I knew the policy would be so unstable, I would not choose it.”

Even though Australian colleges and universities treat foreign students like cash cows, they receive no assistance from their schools when policies change, nor are there any government agencies that can help them. So who will take responsibility for their loss – or should they vote with their feet?

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  • Suzi Heaton says:

    I think that it is interesting that Qiuchen Xie has tailored his studies, and his future career, in order to follow an empty promise to gain residency in Australia.
    Being an international student myself (and one who has also given the government a lot of money to be here), I have heard of many similar stories. However, the government does not stipulate that a completion of an Australian qualification will definitely lead to residency.
    The government must constantly monitor their immigration policy in order to prevent an influx which could lead to disastrous consequences (like limited accommodation, health services, inadequate transport systems and lack of employment for domestic residents)
    Those seeking to emigrate here need to respect that there will always be changes to the immigration policy. Of course, as more people have gained the qualifications to fill the occupations on the SOL list, they are no longer in demand and so the policy needs to be changed.
    I strongly advocate a cultural mix within a country, and Australia is built on such a heritage. But those seeking to study here – purely for the benefit of becoming a permanent resident – do so at their own risk.

  • Yu Sophie Lui says:

    Thank you for your comments. Here I want to explain the reason for Qiuchen Xie changing his plan as the policy changes.
    Firstly, he found he loved living in Australia when he studying here.
    At that time, the Howard government changed its immigration police to allow overseas students who completed their degrees in Australia to stay on as skilled migrants, then various education institutions and agents advertised courses as a route to migration and some even claimed to “guarantee” success.
    It did mislead overseas students, didn’t it?
    Furthermore, according to reports, there were a total of 459,692 international students enrolled in Australian education institutions,contributing about USD 13.7 billion to the Australian economy in 2007-8.
    Not all the students are affected by the law changes, but as I mentioned the affected students got no assistance at all, so is this fair?

  • Muqun Molly Niu says:

    I agree that there need some advice service for overseas students according to the changes of the policy.
    However I think students should consider their education and career plane carefully and make a wise choice and they need pay attention more on their interests and their whole life career path when they decide their major.

  • May Ho says:

    Thanks for the interesting topic Sophie, certainly the constant changes to the Skilled Migration List has affected many international students. In fact the recently released revised list which has cut most general business professions (marketing, management, design etc) is discouraging.

    It will be interesting to see if this new list will affect those professionals seeking sponsorship by employer if their profession is no longer on the revised list.

  • Stella says:

    The issue is whether or not the marketing departments of universities and migration agents are unscrupulous in selling courses as means of attaining residency. Perhaps students are naïve to think they should be compensated for the time they waste. In order to get value for money they should stick to studying the profession they want to practice, at the best-qualified institution.
    As for being ‘cash cows’… The fact that they contribute to both their educational institution and Australia’s economy through payment of fees and taxes entitles them to access to study, food, shelter, transport, personal security and a myriad of other freedoms underpinning democratic societies, but does it include the right to live here permanently?

  • Nina-Cathrin Trunk says:

    Thank you for putting this topic in the spotlight, as it affects the future plans of many international students in Australia.

    In February this year, the Sydney Morning Herald followed up on this issue and reported on serious reputational damages for Australia’s $15 billion education industry.

    I agree with the argument that Australia risks a negative reputation abroad by changing its immigration policy for foreign students.

    I believe the Australian government needs to take into account that the country’s education sector depends on the financial investment and word-of-mouth recommendation of international students.

    Australian Council for Private Education and Training chief Andrew Smith noticed a “significant drop-off in demand for Australian education from overseas” threatening the existence of academic institutions and jobs.

    … But is there really a student-friendly way to filter quality migrants?

  • Jingqi Lindsay Liu says:

    It is a fact that a lot of Chinese students are struggling with the decision whether to stay or leave. It is reasonable that the Australia government choose to change the immigration policy frequently in order to ensure the development of the country. I have two different opinions about the immigration policy. one is that the government should give certain consideration to international students. The other is that students who want to stay here should consider all the changes and risks which may happen and prepare for your own future.

  • Hanyu Zheng says:

    The change of Australian immigration law did destroy a lot of oversea students’ dream to get the PR identity or become Australian residence. As the article mentioned, a number of students paid money and time but it turns out they will get nothing. Students who changed their major just for immigration sink into arduous situation, they can’t immigrate, if they go back to their won country it’s also hard for them to find a job. Like in China, cookery is not a popular career choice or high-paid job, now students who choose the cookery can’t immigrate here or get a job, if they go back to China, it is still hard for them.

  • Marcella De Carvalho Dias says:

    I believe the system itself is wrong from its root. The government says that the list and rules exist in order to bring skilled people to immigrate to Australia. However, there are lots of skilled people (such as IT and accounting professionals) that are now working as cabbies. So I really don’t see the point of it.
    This is all to feed a whole industry behind it such as universities, private colleges, TAFE etc. Just in the last years, there were hundreds of new colleges opened to teach hairdressing. Intenational students were studying hairdressing just because it was in the so called list. Now that hairdressing is not the list anymore, what are all these students going to do?
    They shouldn’t change the rules as often as they do.

  • Thank you Sophie for this nice piece about new “Skilled Ocupation list” and tightening Rudd government migration poclicy. For most international students who attempt or in the process of applying permenant residency, that’s heart-breaking.

    And i also noticed the media release from immigration and citizen departemnt highlighted “we expects people with skills that are suitable for Australian economy”. Basically it’s saying, if we don’t need you, we don’t want you and the reason for this is nation economy.

    Australia economic system has limited self-digest capability, so do other nations. The new skilled occupation list cut off most of they called “low-skilled” occupations such as hair dressing and chef, just becuase the whole system is unfordable of those types of migrations.However,there is actually no low or high distinction between occupations and people.And i think government could have chosen more suitable interpretation, maybe sounds less discriminative.

    I personally think immigration in Australia looks like an industry. The government provides the best system and living standard for people who appreciate it. Therefore it’s understandable why the rules have kept in changing.It closly copes with markets, economics and resource distribution, And is decided by offers and demands

    It’s interesting to combine Rudd government’s recent policies about “Super Profit Tax” together with deduction of individual and corporation tax and enhancement of welfare. It seems Rudd government plans too save Australian dependent economy situation and develop it.

    And transformations always create tragedy and commedy.However, the one sacrifies itself will never be the player. It’s a world-wide principle.

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