Government ministers are said to be “genuinely open” to visa reforms and it is expected changes will be put in place before the start of the new year.

Speaking at The PIE Live, Phil Honeywood, CEO of IEAA said the proposals will entitle students completing studies offshore to post-study work rights so “that when they come to Australia they don’t have to do any face-to-face learning, they can get their post study work right based on their entire study abroad”.

Additionally, proposals would double the migration points for the completion of a professional year program in Australia from five to 10. The programs are now “very popular” among international graduates, Honeywood stated.

“All of this plays into a skilled migration push, which is now happening in Australia as we’re waking up to the fact that we desperately need vibrant, resilient young people with skills that many Australian domestic students don’t have,” Honeywood noted.

“That skilled migration push hopefully will really resonate with the different levels of government.”

The proposed policy reforms will aim to “really incentivise students to come to Australia and really incentivise our wonderful providers to really stay the distance”, he added.

Uncapped work rights for international students in hospitality – and earning award wages – is also an additional incentive, Honeywood suggested.

“A lot of state governments are quite keen to fill skill gaps”

He added that IEAA is urging federal ministers to allow state and territory governments to double or triple state-sponsored skilled migration quotas.

“A lot of state governments are quite keen to fill skill gaps,” he said. For example, in Western Australia a booming mining industry “cannot fill the demand for workers”.

“It’s just a real problem that in the past has been filled by semi-skilled and skilled young people.”

The upcoming Connected, Creative and Caring national 10-year strategy includes “a very strong emphasis on caring for student welfare and student service delivery”. Submitted to the ministry of education seven weeks ago, it features a 40-page Covid recovery plan, including a new brand for promoting Australia.

A recently unveiled Austrade campaign – Shine with Australia – is targeting prospective international students to choose to study with Australian providers either online, or offshore or onshore campuses.

The pandemic has caused a rethink in forms of delivery, and Australia has “a very much renewed focus on transnational education”, Honeywood added.

More effort is going into 2+2 programs, offshore campuses as well as international high school delivery offshore, and strong emphasis is also placed on online and hybrid forms of teaching and learning, he added.

The University of Western Australia introduced learning centres in China from July 2021 to offer campus experiences to its Chinese students. It now has seven locations with partner institutions across the country.

Initially a “retention type” plan, the micro campus offer has “moved to become more of an attraction strategy”, said Callum Cowell, director Global Engagement at the UWA.

Around a third of the 550 students currently at centres are commencing students for this semester, he added.

“The model that we’re operating now, I don’t think will go beyond border opening, but we do see a place for students potentially commencing in a learning centre and then perhaps coming onshore afterwards,” Cowell said.

“The other thing that we’re working on now is how we can leverage these relationships and this cohort of students in the professional internship space, in this case within China, so that we’re actually building that post-graduation work connection right from the get go. So even if they’re starting offshore, they can be building that already before they come onshore to then perhaps return.”

“We really are focusing a bit of time on planning the way back,” Steve Berridge, senior vice-president & deputy vice-chancellor, Global at Victoria University added.

“It is taking that opportunity to think about new models, new markets, new partnerships and really build a more diverse international student profile.”

There is finally “some momentum happening in return of students to Australia”, Honeywood continued.

Federally-approved student return plans in New South Wales and South Australia will see 250 students per week and 120 per fortnight arrive, respectively.

Victoria has sent its plan for approval to the federal government, which would see 120 students arrive per week. Additionally, Study Queensland is looking to submit a student return plan to Canberra shortly.

“You’re only starting very small,” Honeywood noted, while preference will be given to returning students, largely postgraduate students.

A substantial cost to return onshore is not just the high cost of a chartered flight that will take about 10 weeks for the state government to organise, he noted.

“The greatest cost is in the logistics in getting the student from the airport to the quarantine facility and then paying for quarantine.”

“Four out of six Australian states are now definitely moving ahead”

Costs range from upwards of $9,000 in NSW to $12,000 in SA and in Victoria state government subsidies bring costs to around $5,500 per student.

Universities are going to be paying for the the bulk of those costs, he said.

“Four out of six Australian states are now definitely moving ahead, and we are hopeful that that’s going to really get momentum in the run up to semester one next year.”

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