Australia announces plans to tighten visa regulations for international students and low-skilled workers

Australia announced on Monday its intention to tighten visa regulations for international students and low-skilled workers, potentially reducing its migrant intake by half over the next two years. The government aims to revamp what it perceives as a “broken” migration system.

The proposed changes involve higher English test scores for international students and increased scrutiny on second visa applications, extending their stay. Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil emphasised that the strategy aims to return migration numbers to normal and secure Australia’s future.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese echoed concerns about the need to scale back migration to a “sustainable level,” citing a broken system. O’Neil highlighted that targeted reforms are already impacting net overseas migration and will contribute to an anticipated decline in migrant numbers.

This decision follows projections of a peak in net immigration at a record 510,000 in 2022-23, expected to decrease to approximately a quarter of a million by 2024-25 and 2025-26, aligning with pre-COVID levels. O’Neil attributed the surge in net overseas migration in 2022-23 mainly to international students.

IDP Education, a provider of placement and education services for international students, saw its shares drop over 3% in afternoon trade following the announcement.

Last year, Australia increased its annual migration numbers to address staff shortages caused by strict border controls during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the influx of foreign workers and students added pressure to an already tight rental market, contributing to an increase in homelessness.

A survey conducted for the Sydney Morning Herald reported that 62% of Australian voters believe the country’s migration intake is too high.

Australia’s Labor government, historically reliant on immigration to support a tight labour market, is now prioritising the entry of highly skilled workers. A new specialist visa for such workers is set to be established, with a one-week processing time to assist businesses in recruiting top talents amid stiff competition with other developed economies.

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