In the second half of 2023, the Australian government put in place new rules to stop fake students from taking advantage of immigration loopholes to come to the country and work while pretending to be students. The Department of Home Affairs reports that 19% of applicants for a study visa were turned down in the first half of Australia’s fiscal year. This shows that the changes are already having an effect.
If that rate of refusal keeps up, the number of students who get study visas in 2023–24 will drop by 91,715 compared to 2022–23, when 577,295 visas were given out. That’s a 15% drop.
For the sake of comparison:
- 10% of visas were refused in 2018/19
- 8.5% were refused in 2021/22
- 14% were refused in 2022/23
Who is being turned away?
The Australian government’s plan to change the way immigration works, which was announced in December 2023, means that some applicants have a much better chance of being accepted than others. Students now have to show more proof when they apply because of steps like
English language requirements that are stricter; a required “Genuine Student Test” that is meant to find and help people who are most likely to (1) study instead of working and (2) give the Australian economy the skills it needs.
In reality, students who are trying to get lower levels of credentials are the ones most likely to be turned down for a visa. Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia, explains:
“There have been a lot of diploma-level vocational students taking courses like the diploma of leadership who have been turned away. Now the main focus is on students who can add skills to the Australian economy.”
Other parts of Australia’s new approach to its international business are:
examining high-risk student applications with more care;
Strictering up on dishonest education providers; boosting the Department of Home Affairs’ student visa integrity unit to stop people from abusing Australia’s student visa system; making it harder for international education providers to meet certain standards.
The extra scrutiny is making it easier for immigration officials to weed out fake students, which is leading to a higher rate of visa refusals. A spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs said:
“The department has seen more and more concerns about honesty in the student visa program.” The department got more fake documents, fake claims about English tests, fake second marriages, and fake documents related to English language tests in student visa applications. If an applicant is not real, doesn’t meet the rules, or is involved in fraud, the department will not give them a visa.
Education Minister Jason Clare said, “The Albanese government’s migration strategy and the other integrity measures we’ve put in place make it clear that we will do what it takes to protect students from being exploited and keep Australia’s reputation as a top international school.”
Migration going down
Net migration is also going down because of Australia’s new approach to internationalization. This was one of the goals the government had in mind when they wrote the policies. In Australia, as in Canada, the recent influx of so many new international students has made it harder to find affordable housing. This has made people less supportive of letting in more immigrants.
According to MacroBusiness.com, “the most recent monthly arrivals and departures data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) suggests that Australia’s net overseas migration (NOM) has passed its peak.” “Monthly net arrivals are finally going down from record highs,” the next chart shows.
The economy as a whole is affected by international rules on education.
Australia, Canada, and the UK have all changed the rules for immigration in the past few months to limit the number of international students coming to study in their countries. They’ve done it in various unique ways:
Canada’s plan includes limiting the number of new study permits given out over the next two years, among other things. The UK no longer lets most international students bring their dependents with them, and Australia has taken a more targeted approach, making dozens of small changes that make it harder for certain types of students, agents, and institutions to abuse the system.
New data from the Department of Home Affairs shows that visa approvals will likely drop by 15% in 2023–24 (if the current refusal rate stays the same). This means that Australia may see a smaller and more selective drop in new international students than Canada and the UK.
Processing of study permits for many students in Canada has been put on hold. This alone will cut down on the number of students coming to the country this year, not to mention the effects of the two-year limit and other measures. With the new ban on student dependents, demand from students in top source markets is already going down in the UK.
However, in Australia, the government seems to be balancing the fact that international students are very important for the economy with the fact that the system needs to be more honest. The policies and statements made by the government about them make it clear that the goal of the new immigration rules is to stop fake students, not to lower the demand for all international students.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, international education added AUS$34 billion to Australia’s economy in the first three quarters of 2023. This was an increase of 68% compared to other export categories, which went down by 4.8%. Universities Australia thinks that the sector’s final contribution in 2023 will be more than the AUS$41 billion it gave in 2019, which was the previous high.
Universities Australia’s CEO, Catriona Jackson, said this about the news:
“The most important thing we don’t dig out of the ground is education.” Every year, it brings in tens of billions of dollars, keeps tens of thousands of jobs going, and helps pay for services that all Australians need. In addition, it makes us friends, a link between countries, and a supporter of regional stability, which is becoming more and more important in a world where things are changing quickly in the strategic environment.
Through careful and strategic work over many decades, Australia has built a strong, competitive edge in the global race for international students. Any changes that make it harder for these people to come to our country should be carefully weighed against the huge benefits they bring while they are here and after they graduate.
Recently, international education in Canada has added CDN$22 billion (USD$16.4 billion) to the economy. In the UK, the sector has added £41.9 billion (USD$53.2 billion) to the economy. International students brought in almost US$38 billion for the US economy in 2022–2023.