Australia plans to halve migrant intake, tighten student visa rules


  • World
  • Monday, 11 Dec 2023

File photo: People cross a street in the city centre following further easing of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Sydney, Australia, December 10, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File photo

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia on Monday said it would tighten visa rules for international students and low-skilled workers that could halve its migrant intake over the next two years as the government looks to overhaul what it said was a "broken" migration system.

Under the new policies, international students would need to secure higher ratings on English tests and there would be more scrutiny on a student's second visa application that would prolong their stay.

"Our strategy will bring migration numbers back to normal," Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil said during a media briefing.

"But it's not just about numbers. It's not just about this moment and the experience of migration our country is having at this time. This is about Australia's future."

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese over the weekend said Australia's migration numbers needed to be wound back to a "sustainable level," adding that "the system is broken."

O'Neil said the government's targeted reforms were already putting downward pressure on net overseas migration and will further contribute to an expected decline in migrant numbers.

The decision comes after net immigration was expected to have peaked at a record 510,000 in 2022-23. Official data showed it was forecast to fall to about a quarter of a million in 2024-25 and 2025-26, roughly in line with pre-COVID levels.

O'Neil said the increase in net overseas migration in 2022-23 was mostly driven by international students.

Shares of IDP Education, which provides placement and education services to international students, were down more than 3% in afternoon trade.

Australia boosted its annual migration numbers last year to help businesses recruit staff to fill shortages after the COVID-19 pandemic brought strict border controls, and kept foreign students and workers out for nearly two years.

But the sudden influx of foreign workers and students has exacerbated pressure on an already tight rental market, with homelessness on the rise in the country.

A survey done for the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on Monday said 62% of Australian voters said the country's migration intake was too high.

Long reliant on immigration to supply what is now one of the tightest labour markets in the world, Australia's Labor government has pushed to speed up the entry of highly skilled workers and smooth their path to permanent residency.

A new specialist visa for highly skilled workers will be set up with the processing time set at one week, helping businesses recruit top migrants amid tough competition with other developed economies.

(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney; Editing by Mark Porter and Michael Perry)

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