An Australian immigration expert has predicted a negative net movement of students into the country for the rest of 2020 as a direct result of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration Abul Rizvi — who is now doing a PhD on Australia’s immigration policies — related this to the anticipated 80% drop in the country’s migrant intake.

“In the government’s recent economic statement, it has said that net overseas migration in 2020/21 will be around 31,000. This is around 240,000 less than forecast in the 2019 Budget. It is likely the government is planning for the bulk of these to be overseas students arriving after January 2021 — but even 31,000 may be optimistic,” he told Study International over e-mail.

Abul explained that while the government may be planning for a substantial intake of students in 2021, it would depend on the willingness of students to commit to and pay for a two-week quarantine. Australia will also have to significantly scale-up its quarantine facilities.

“Even the forecast surge in overseas students, however, will not be sufficient to avoid massive job losses in Australia’s universities and in the businesses around university precincts that rely on the spending of overseas students,” he commented.

How many international students are entering Australia?

Only 130 international students arrived in Australia between March and June 2020, while 22,280 left the country. Australia currently caps its weekly arrivals at 4,000 visitors, which places a certain strain on international student intake.

How long will this trend continue? At least until international borders reopen, Abul said, and more unemployed temporary entrants find they are unable to survive on charity.

“That is, of course, assuming they can find enough money for the airfare home,” he added.

Abul said the government should focus their current efforts on international students still in the country.

“There are still over 500,000 students in Australia and many would currently be reliant on charity. The government should ensure that students who need to get a COVID-19 test and self-isolate are provided with financial compensation to do so.”

Will Australian immigration policies affect graduate employment?

The Department of Home Affairs states, “International students and recent graduates who are eligible for a Temporary Graduate visa (subclass 485) and [are] unable to travel to Australia will also be allowed to apply while offshore.”

The sub-class 485 visa, however, does not guarantee applicants a job in Australia.

“In the current labour market, students who are offshore and take up this opportunity without a prior job offer would be taking a substantial risk,” Abul said.

Approximately 600,000 international students will be completing their studies in November 2020. Abul anticipates that a significant portion of these graduates will not seek a post-study visa because of the difficulties of securing a job in Australia.

He elaborated, “Students from China will also be influenced by rising diplomatic tensions, warnings from their government about alleged racist attacks and job opportunities associated with a Chinese economy that appears to be pulling out of the COVID-19 recession.”

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