Thousands of Indians may stay back 'illegally' in Australia

Last Updated 24 September 2010, 14:18 IST

"In two to three years' time, what the government will find is there will be tens of thousands of (overseas students) illegally out there," David Bitel, the ex-president of the Refugee Council of Australia, was quoted as saying by 'The Australian' daily today.

"People are not just going to go (home). They had an expectation (of permanent residence). They're furious. They came here, they paid thousands of dollars," said Bitel from the firm Parish Patience.

He believed at least 100,000 students, who had enrolled when the rules gave good reason to expect permanent residency, could fail to qualify for a visa under the new regime.

Bitel said there were already signs of desperate students looking to refugee claims as a fallback. Some of the Chinese staging a rooftop protest at Sydney's Villawood immigration detention centre were understood to have had student visas although commentators believed there were very few students in detention at the moment.

The busiest fields, in what became a multi-billion-dollar trade, have been hairdressing, commercial cookery and business. The report said that the full effect of new changes was yet to be seen as of a grace period.

Population researcher Bob Birrell, whose work showed the poor English and job record of former students taken as skilled migrants, predicted a "great log jam". The government had allowed a long queue of permanent residency applications to build up, yet it planned to keep cutting the number of places in the independent skilled migration category typically targeted by ex-students, he said.

The new policy favours employer and state sponsorship, as well as high-skill qualifications. Overseas student numbers in vocational colleges rose from 53,301 in 2002 (a year after the Howard government allowed foreign graduates to stay to pursue permanent residency) to 231,452 last year. University numbers grew from 115,200 to 203,955 over the same period.

Migration Institute of Australia's Maureen Horder said there were an estimated 147,000 ex-students in the permanent residency queue, although some were offshore.
She appealed for a "commonsense" approach to onshore ex-students, many of whom had skills, work and effective membership of the community.

"We invited them as our guests (under the old rules), then we slammed the door on them. Now, that's not very polite," she said. Horder said it was premature to predict an outbreak of overstayers since ex-students still had the grace period in which to seek work experience and sponsorship in the hope of securing permanent residency under the new rules.

But the government should act to head off any crisis. "(Let's) come up with an approach that doesn't make these people vulnerable to overstay," she said.

Horder appealed to Prime Minister Julia Gillard to abandon Labour's "heavy-handed technique of hatcheting into the queue" of permanent residency applicants. Before the election, Labor put up a so-called "cap and cull" bill that would allow the immigration minister to shorten the queue by cancelling visa applications.

(Published 24 September 2010, 14:07 IST)

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