Australia's new visa capping bill to hit Indian students

 The red carpet, rolled out during former prime minister, John Howard’s regime, instantly made Australia, the much sought after dream destination for international students, including many hundreds of Indians.

It was a boom time for short-term vocational courses that allowed students to acquire permanent residency while in Australia, without having to return to their native countries. As a result, cash cows thronged Down Under in large numbers, making education the third biggest export industry in Australia.

But having seen and suffered a great damage to the country’s reputation after violent attacks on Indian students last year, exposure of dodgy private colleges and mushrooming growth of unscrupulous migration rackets that sold visas in the name of education, the ruling Labour government is now all set to put a tab on migration.

In a major shift from previous policy, the proposed Migration Amendment (Visa Capping) Bill, 2010, aims to revamp the migration programme from a ‘supply driven’ influx to a ‘demand driven,’ that is, employer sponsored migration. The bill, introduced in parliament on May 26 is being currently reviewed by the Senate standing committee on legal and constitutional affairs. As soon as the Senate clears the bill, it will come into force, signalling unceremonious ouster of hundreds of international students pining for permanent residency in the land of affluence and opportunities.

The Migration Amendment Bill proposes to amend the Migration Act, 1958, to enable the immigration and citizenship minister to cap and terminate applications based on certain ‘objective characteristics,’  rather than having to cap an entire subclass or class of visas.
The minister would be able to outline ‘characteristics’ of the applicants and apply a cap on the number of visas given to that category in a particular time frame. Once that number is reached, all remaining applications will stand ‘terminated as if they were never made.’ The ‘terminated’ applicants will have to pack up and leave Australia within 28 days as even their bridging visas will cease to exist.

For example, if the minister picks up the characteristics of ‘hairdressers or cooks’ and applies a cap of a specific number, then, all remaining applicants under the category of cooks and hairdressers will stand terminated. Since the application will be terminated and not refused, it will not allow any appeal against the decision in the Migration Review Tribunal or the court of law.

Ahead of the bill, the government has already slashed the Skilled Occupation List (SOL) from 400 skills to just 181 that can be nominated for independent migration. Instead of cookery, hospitality, hairdressing and other soft skills courses, most popular among Indian students, the new list is focused on doctors, nurses, health professionals and engineers.

Therefore, the proposed bill has caused severe anxiety, even panic, among international students community as they apprehend their dreams of acquiring a permanent residency (PR) in Australia getting shattered. The anxious voices were recently heard, most vociferously, in the National Interest Programme of ABC Radio.

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Australian Federation of International Students (AFIS) website is full of posts and enquiries from worried students and Indian students community has also formed a 10 member committee — friends of international students — having representatives from recognised Indian community networks and students to seek a fair treatment of their legitimate expectations.

www.fairgo4internationalstudents.org, has been specially launched to step up united efforts against the reported ‘draconian’ bill “particularly for the intended retrospective application of the amendments.”

The new changes are likely to hit all international students but a major chunk of these will be of Indian and Chinese origin. It is believed that nearly 1,47,000 primary and secondary applicants are going to be affected which includes students and their families, many of those who have completed their studies in Australia.

The government reportedly has about 61,000 places for the General Skilled Migration (GSM) category for next year. Many of the PR aspirants are on bridging visa, awaiting a final approval from immigration department. The new law will wipe out the career of many qualified applicants, said an IT professional awaiting decision on his PR application for the last three years. The government was “trying to sweep everyone with the same broom.” It will also kill the competition in Australian market and does not augur well with Australia’s much hyped ‘fair dinkum’ image!

The new bill when it become law will affect many students who have almost settled in Australia, have their families and a fairly good job. After having waited for two-three years for permanent residency applications to be processed, they have no clue if the government would consider any transitional arrangement for them. They will have no recourse but to leave Australia within 28 days.

While there is great resentment brewing up against the bill, some academicians have even termed the new measures as ‘kiss of death’ for the $18.6 billion education industry in Australia. Some immigration sources have warned the proposed en masse deportation of foreign students could see the number of illegal immigrants on rise.

Many of the applicants who have sold or mortgaged their lands and properties to pay fee in Australian colleges in the hope of getting a PR may prolong their stay illegally. So while minister Chris Evans will undoubtedly have huge powers to terminate them, in trying to clean up the alleged migration mess, the government may find itself embroiled in other problems!

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