Wednesday, 6 March 2013

457 visa staff keep the dole queues short

THE latest report on temporary work visas reveals that the numbers granted fell sharply in the last four months of last year from a record 7000 visas issued in August to 4400 by December.

In September iron ore and coal prices tumbled, leading resource companies to rein in their expansion plans. Business profits across the economy slumped and surveys showed companies were cutting their workforces.

The unemployment rate rose from 5.1 per cent to 5.4 per cent but there was surprise, shared by Treasury and the Reserve Bank, that it did not jump further.

An important reason is that temporary workers provide a safety valve for the labour market. When demand surges, as in 2007-08, the ability to take on temporary labour means the economy is not choked by labour shortages and spiralling wages. When demand falls, as in the last four months of last year, temporary workers are the first to go, enabling the economy to adjust without unemployment rising.

Temporary workers were similarly crucial in dealing with the global financial crisis without the level of unemployment that affected so many other countries.

It is not just the 70,000 people on the 457 temporary work visa program that deliver this flexibility; there are about 250,000 foreign students with work rights, and 150,000 working holidaymakers. New Zealanders also come and go as they please. In all, about 5 per cent of the labour force comprises temporary workers from overseas who respond to downturns by going home rather than applying for the Newstart allowance.

But the 457 visa program also makes an important contribution to permanent skills. Australian National University demographer Peter McDonald notes that about 40 per cent of people on 457 visas remain here permanently and are the largest single source of skilled migration.

They are great migrants. They come with skills and their "try before you buy" approach brings faster integration.

By contrast, people who apply for skilled migration visas from overseas can have difficulty getting qualifications recognised and sometimes end up working in jobs below their skill level or becoming unemployed.

When McDonald described the 457 program as "the centrepiece of the Australian migration" on ABC radio yesterday, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union national office tweeted: "So Peter McDonald, you are saying that the best way for migrants to come to Australia is as bonded labour?"

McDonald and CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan sit on the government's nine-member advisory council on skilled migration, so the debate over migration policy is close and personal.

The argument being advanced by Julia Gillard - that foreign workers are jumping to the head of the queue ahead of dinkum Aussies and driving down wages - is pure political theatre devised for an election year. It is intended to tap into the job insecurity of lower-paid workers by exploiting the fear of the foreigner.

But it betrays a complete lack of understanding of the contribution the 457 visa program, or indeed migration, makes to the economy.

Yes, a worker coming from overseas will take a job that might be filled by a local, if a suitable candidate could be found. But the foreign worker will spend on housing, goods and services that will generate more jobs. The best estimates show that the two effects balance, with migration contributing equally to the supply and demand for jobs.

It is one thing for the unions, obsessed with their declining membership, to focus only on the competition for jobs but it is a travesty that the federal government should be similarly blind to the national interest.

The notion that foreign workers drive down wages, as argued yesterday by Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor, is without foundation. Wages paid to people on 457 visas exceed average wages by 15 per cent on average. For example, the average worker in the construction industry covered by the CFMEU earns $73,300, while construction workers on temporary work visas earn $90,600.

The point of employers using the 457 program is to get someone with the right skill, and they are prepared to pay for it. In no industry is there such a weight of workers on temporary visas that it has a material effect on average wages.

Both the Prime Minister and Tony Abbott played the migration card in the run-up to the 2010 election.

Gillard sought to differentiate herself from her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, declaring she did not support "hurtling down the track to a 36 million or 40 million population". The Opposition Leader sought to go one better, saying he would impose a cap on net overseas migration of 170,000 people a year. This ignored the fact many aspects of the migration program are demand-driven and cannot be capped, including the 457 visas, New Zealanders, working holidaymakers and students.

The 457 visa program, like any government operation, has integrity issues and may need tinkering from time to time to avoid abuse. But exploiting these issues for narrow political ends risks undermining support for a scheme that makes an important contribution to national prosperity.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

'Visa factory' concern in push on overseas students

THE federal government has been asked to consider pushing international students closer to the front of the immigration queue, sparking potential concerns of a re-emergence of the "visa factory" colleges that flourished under the Howard government's skilled migration policies.

The International Education Advisory Council, chaired by National Australia Bank chairman Michael Chaney, proposes a doubling of the bonus points available to would-be migrants with Australian qualifications.

The council's report, released yesterday, also suggests spending more of the foreign aid budget on education and giving international students equal access to hospital treatment and transport concessions.

Mr Chaney said international education, Australia's fourth-biggest export industry, was "on the cusp of embracing a changed global future". He said an "appropriate focus" on the report's 35 recommendations could help boost overseas student numbers by 30 per cent, to more than half a million by 2020.

Tertiary Education Minister Chris Bowen said he expected the government to accept most of the recommendations. He has already adopted the first two: a co-ordinating council of federal and state ministers and a five-year strategy for the industry.

Insiders said they supported the recommendations but had hoped for "more meat on the bones" in terms of timelines, funding and government involvement. The International Education Association of Australia said a ministerial council that met just twice a year was "frankly not enough", and it had expected the report to contain a strategy rather than a proposal to develop one.

But IEAA president Helen Zimmerman said the bonus-point proposal for skilled migrants was "sensible" and wouldn't revive the past decade's immigration-driven skewing of international education. Until 2008, students were virtually guaranteed residency if they graduated with Australian qualifications in areas such as hairdressing and cooking. Enrolments snowballed but there were major concerns about the quality of these courses.

The new proposal would give would-be residents with Australian credentials 10 of the 60 points they need before they can apply for skilled migration. Points are also awarded for youth, English-language ability, high-level qualifications and work experience.

"There's nothing in there which is about using education as a quick pathway to migration," Ms Zimmerman said, adding that only 5 per cent of colleges had rorted the old migration rules.

Australian National University vice-chancellor Ian Young said the proposal was "more moderate" than the old rules, and didn't concern him, provided "we can guarantee the quality".

"As long as you've got a regime in place that can ensure we're not going to damage the Australian brand, that's fine," he said.

The Council of International Students Australia said students wanted consistency and clarity, after years of abrupt changes. "If the policies are clear and have a set quota, then the people applying for these courses are not misled when they complete," said CISA president Aleem Nizari.

But he said policymakers should not be overly concerned about waves of migrating students. "People don't like to stay in one country nowadays for too long," he said.

Peak higher education body Universities Australia said it supported the Chaney report's "sustainable growth model" of a 5 per cent annual increase in student numbers.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Globe trotter: Emerging destinations overseas

As students approach a new academic session, Pratibha Jain, international education consultant, writes on emerging destinations overseas

Astaggering six billion rupees is spent annually by Indian students studying abroad, which is almost twice the annual budget spent on education by the government. For decades Indian students preferred the US, UK and Australia for higher education . However, the tightening of rules and low economic opportunities in these traditional destinations have opened options, enticing Indian students to look at institutes in Canada, Europe, New Zealand and Singapore. Courses in professional disciplines such as engineering and IT are still the most sought-after , as they are seen to be the most employable.


Singapore has benefited the most. For Indians , it meets almost all features of a familiar culture, weather and world-class universities. The indigenous Singapore universities are highly selective, but offer generous funding of 75% tuition grant for those who make the grade (three-year bond). However, many are looking at the numerous private universities, which offer accredited degree programmes of universities of UK and Australia at lower costs. Academic institutes in Hong Kong and Malaysia are making it to student lists due to low cost and employment prospects, though the numbers are still small.


UK has scrapped the two-year post-study leave to remain in the country, replacing it with a new policy that requires a student to hold a job that pays around 20,000 pounds before applying for a visa. This has dashed the hopes of Indian students to recover costs by working, as there are very few bursaries or scholarships available.

Countries in Europe are moving in to fill the gap by offering more courses taught in English. Sweden, Denmark, Italy and Ireland are offering a number of scholarships and the cost of living too is low. Yet, the numbers applying are limited to a few adventurous Indians due to language and cultural barriers . France and Spain are emerging as attractive destinations as many of their institutions are in the global rankings, which is a big factor for the brand-conscious Indian. Germany is attracting more numbers due to its academic excellence and merit-based scholarships, especially in engineering and bio-sciences . While it is known for automobiles, aeronautical, mechanical and environmental engineering, it is marketing its courses in business and economics as well. "The student visa can be converted into a residence permit for employment and is issued for up to five years,'' said the director of the German Academic Exchange Service's (DAAD) regional office in New Delhi. With fee subsidies and government stipends, the tuition fee is low even though living costs are still high.

The European Union's Erasmus Mundus programme, launched in 2004, has helped 2,000 Indian students study in institutions at very low costs in Europe including in Germany, France and Spain.


The country is attracting a large number of Indian students due to easier norms for admissions, visas, with a perception of lower costs and long-term immigration. Tourism is still the largest employment sector. Institutes offer one and two-year diplomas, which lead to residency as soon as students get a related job. Currently, courses in hotel management, cookery and management are in high demand.


Under the new regulations, international students who graduate with a Bachelor or Masters degree after studying for at least two years in Australia, would be able to work in the country for two years after graduation. Those with research Masters degrees may remain for three years poststudy and work. Merit-based funding is being offered by individual universities and departments.


The ageing demography of Canada being well known, young Indians see it as a country which needs them and where they can be a part of the growth story. Canada is becoming increasingly popular with easier work permits, residency permits and even immigration.

Universities are known for high quality academics with tougher entry norms. Eight Canadian universities have come together to announce funding for Indian students at over $4 million, including the new Globalink Canada-India Graduate Fellowship , which will provide up to 51 scholarships . The trend of Indians going abroad to study will continue to be driven by the aspiration to improve quality of life through quality education. Many take the risk of loans to fund overseas education, which makes employment options and visa rules key factors in student choices. US still remains the land of education opportunity despite slowdown, as returning students have an edge vis-a-vis jobs in premier companies in India and in the Asean region. Hence, a complex interplay of variables makes it difficult to predict the direction and of the continual growth in student numbers going abroad. 

Monday, 8 October 2012

Australia Cancelled 10,000 Student Visas

More than 10,000 student visas were canceled by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in Australia in the last year because they did not satisfy the conditions according to which they were issued, authorities said.

The cancellations in 2011-2012 were due to various reasons, mainly to the fact that the students that were issued a visa card, could not meet the requirements of their studies, while many of them were not taking the courses they were supposed to be studying.

Other student visa cards were cancelled due to false information regarding the attitude and character of foreign students, officials said. There were some 461,447 foreign students in the country as of August, about 7.6 percent less than the previous year.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Key conditions released for significant investor visa in Australia

The full conditions for a new visa designed to encourage significant migrant investment into Australia were released today by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen MP.

The significant investor visa, first announced in May, is being introduced as a key component of the Government’s business innovation and investment program, and requires visa holders to invest at least AUD 5 million.

The visa will commence from 24 November this year, when applicants can submit an expression of interest through Skill select.

'The business innovation and investment program is positioned to target migrants with a demonstrated history of success in business and investment, to make a powerful contribution to national innovation and the Australian economy,' Mr Bowen said.

Australia is offering a significant investor visa to provide a boost to the local economy and to compete effectively for high net worth individuals seeking investment immigration on an international scale.

'The AUD 5 million minimum is considered to be sufficient for a meaningful investment contribution, justifying eligibility for visa concessions such as not having to meet the points test, no upper age limit and access to reduced residence requirements,' Mr Bowen said.

'Importantly, significant investors will be required to make complying investments in Australia which include state and territory government bonds, Australian Security Investment Commission-regulated managed funds that invest in Australian assets, and direct investment into private Australian companies not listed on the stock exchange.

'Where visa holders choose to invest directly into Australian companies, these companies will need to meet certain qualifying business standards.'

Mr Bowen said visa holders would have the flexibility to extend their initial four year visa by additional two year periods. They would also be able to satisfy the residence requirement of 160 days in Australia at any time throughout their four year visa.

'This flexibility recognises the needs of the global investor community while also encouraging investment into Australia,' he said.

State and territory governments are partnering with the Commonwealth when selecting prospective high net worth migrants, to ensure the available visas are offered to the most experienced business people and high profile investors.

Source :

Friday, 15 July 2011

ACCC to help fight 'dodgy' colleges

AUSTRALIA'S consumer watchdog could begin policing the operations of training colleges, enforcing standards and carrying out checks to help weed out dodgy providers.

The push to involve the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in enforcement in the private training industry comes as the latest figures show the troubled international student sector has shrunk by almost 10 per cent in a year.

Data released by the federal government this month shows a 9.1 per cent decrease in enrolments to May on the same period last year.
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Changes to visa rules, the high Australian dollar and negative publicity about the safety of international students in Australia have all contributed to the drop in demand from overseas students. Several private college closures have added to the problem, and Overseas Students Ombudsman Allan Asher said he intended to work with colleges to ensure students are getting a fair deal.

''It's our expectation that any education providers who want to stay in business, who want to create a good reputation … are going to respond reasonably quickly,'' he said. ''We know [that it is not everyone] and for those who do engage in misleading or deceptive conduct, or unfair conduct, we'll have tools to use there too.''

Mr Asher said the ACCC would be part of the ombudsman's enforcement strategy, and the two agencies were working on reaching a formal information sharing and investigative relationship. He said he hoped the two bodies would sign a memorandum of understanding later this year.

''We're hoping to enlist them so that, if we do find instances of deliberately wrongful conduct on behalf of providers, there can be some swift intervention,'' he told the Council of International Students Australia's education conference on Tuesday.

''They have quite wide powers … and so far they've expressed a willingness to act to try and protect and enhance the credibility of this sector.''

The Overseas Students Ombudsman was established this year as part of a federal government strategy to better monitor and regulate the international education sector.

The ombudsman has jurisdiction over Australia's 900-odd private education providers, and has received about 100 complaints so far.

Mr Asher said he expects that number to rise significantly, but that complaints have mostly been resolved quickly once his office became involved.

The new watchdog is one measure the federal government is hoping will help improve the international student experience, following sustained pressure on the industry as student numbers plummet.

The latest enrolment figures show there is some growth in enrolments at the university level - a 2.3 per cent increase on May 2010 - but that in the vocational training sector numbers continue to slide.

Year-to-date vocational training enrolments at May 2011 fell by 18.8 per cent on last year, with the largest drop in the English language sector.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Victoria announces ten scholarships for Indian students

Ten Indian scholars will be awarded 90,000 Australian dollars each to pursue their PhDs at any of nine universities in the state of Victoria from next year under a new programme.

"The nine top nine universities have agreed to provide a full tuition waiver and the new scholarships, providing Australian dollar 90,000 over the duration of doctoral studies for each PhD scholar and will support living costs and education-related travel," Australian High Commissioner to India Peter Varghese said, launching the Victoria India Doctoral programme.

The universities where the Indian students can pursue their PhD are Deakin University, University of Melbourne, La Trobe University, Monash University, RMIT University, Swinburne University, Australian Catholic University, University of Ballart and Victoria University. Varghese said same visa conditions will apply to the scholars going to Victoria and they will not be treated differently.

He also maintained that the scholarship programme is in no way linked to wooing India students Down South. Victoria is one of the most populous states of Australia with a large concentration of the Indian diaspora.

Launching the programme in Melbourne, Victoria's Minister for Innovation, Services and Small Business and Minister for Tourism and Major Events Louise Asher said, "the scholarships programme will contribute to global knowledge and help build a closer partnership between India and Australia.