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  • Visa changes could help 200,000 Professionals

    A new path to permanent residency for some skilled migrants and moves to make it easier for international students to work after graduation are among a raft of visa changes covering more than 200,000 foreigners that the government hopes will ease skills shortages.

    In a bid to address ongoing worker shortages, the government has announced that about 20,000 skilled visa holders who stayed in Australia during the pandemic will be eligible for permanent residency.

    The main winners from the temporary concession, which affects primary holders of the temporary skill shortage visa and holders of the now-discontinued 457 visa, will be workers employed in the health and hospitality industries, who make up one-fifth of the potential pool of new permanent residents.

    Previously, temporary skill shortage visa holders in the “short-term” stream were restricted to a two-year stay in Australia without a pathway to permanent residence.

    The measure should provide some modest relief to employers struggling to find workers.

    Job vacancies in the hospitality industry have increased by 87 per cent since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, while openings in the healthcare industry are up by 72 per cent.

    Separately, Education Minister Alan Tudge and Immigration Minister Alex Hawke have agreed on changes that will allow 30,000 students whose visas have expired after February 1, 2020 to reapply for a new 485 visa of the same duration as their original one.

    Graduates of masters by coursework programs, who numbered 170,000 pre-pandemic, will also be able to stay on to work for three years instead of two and vocational education graduates will be eligible for a two-year temporary visa.

    Students will have their time spent studying offshore recognised when applying for a 485 visa.

    International education strategy

    The government has been under intense pressure from business groups to bring international students back onshore as they provide a large workforce for hospitality and retail jobs.

    Immigration Minister Alex Hawke acknowledged that saying: “The changes are targeted to not only support international students but are also a crucial component of our economic recovery and will help us retain and attract skilled workers.”

    Measures will include ongoing fee relief to regulators and other federal agencies, extending an exemption of a 25 per cent fee for students accessing government support for student loans, and another $9 million for English-language colleges to develop online courses.

    Speaking to the annual Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency on Thursday morning, Education Minister Alan Tudge will say the changes would accelerate the recovery process for universities and colleges in the new academic year.

    “This will help ensure the rapid return of international students,” Mr Tudge will say.

    “It provides clear incentives for institutions and students and ensures students are not disadvantaged from being prevented from coming to Australia earlier.”

    The most recent student data shows that there are 200,000 fewer international students enrolled in August 2021 than two years earlier. The hardest-hit sector is the English-language or ELICOS sector, which has been hit by a 71 per cent decline in enrolments over that time frame.

    Mr Tudge is also expected to release the government’s 10-year international education strategy on Thursday afternoon.

    Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, said visa reform was necessary to not only retain existing students but attract new ones.

    “In order to excite interest in Australia as a study destination these student visa flexibilities are welcome,” Mr Honeywood said.

    “Whether they will be enough to encourage students who are already considering Canada, the UK and US is another question.”

    News that fully vaccinated international students can return to NSW, Victoria and the ACT from December 1, alongside visa reform, should help alleviate intense frustration within the international student sector, which was valued at $40 billion in 2019.

    However, there are concerns that the delay in reopening borders will have little impact on attracting new students for the 2022 academic year as most would have made decisions about where to study some months ago.

    Source: Department of Home Affairs

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