On 9 March 2010, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, welcomed the final report of the Baird Review on the legislation governing international education. It is titled “Stronger, Simpler, Smarter ESOS; A Review of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act. It was also greeted favourably by the Deputy Prime minister, Julia Gillard and comes in conjunction with the changes made to the skilled migration program in February, 2010.
Changes were announced in February 2010 to the skilled migration program aimed at removing incentives for overseas students to apply to study in Australia as a way to receive permanent residency. The main change under the new program is to adjust the wide-ranging list of occupations under which students can apply. It will be replaced in the middle of 2010 by a new and more targeted skilled occupations list. The new list of occupations will be developed by the independent body, Skills Australia.
Skills Australia was established by the federal government to provide independent professional advice to the Deputy Prime Minister with regard to matters related to Australia’s workforce. It will consider current trends and the needs of Australia’s workplace and be able to offer expertise in the development of a targeted list
According to the departmental website, the new skilled occupations list will be tightly focused on high value skills. This is referring to skills that will assist in addressing Australia's future skills needs. It will include a mix of skills across a range of professions and trades including occupations in healthcare, engineering and mining.
For international students currently studying in Australia under a vocational, higher education or postgraduate student visa there will be transitional allowances. They will still be eligible to apply for permanent residence if their occupation is on the new skilled occupations list. Students who are currently studying in a course that relates to an occupation that is not on the new skilled occupations list will have until the end of 2012 to apply for a temporary skilled graduate visa, enabling them to spend up to 18 months in Australia in order to acquire work experience and find an Australian employer willing to sponsor them. Students who have pending applications will be covered in the same as those who are currently studying.
The new Skills List will not apply to people applying for a Skilled-Graduate visa (subclass 485) before 8th March 2010, who held a Vocational Education and Training Sector visa (sub-class 572), a Higher Education Sector (subclass 573) or a Post-Graduate Research Sector visa (subclass 574). However, these students must have an occupation on the new Skills List if applying for a permanent GSM visa.
The immigration department is emphasizing the fact that a student visa is “a visa to study” and is not designed to give someone a path to permanent residence. It is advisable that students who have current visas or pending visa applications seek legal advice about how their individual case will be affected by this new list, which comes into effect mid-2010.
The Baird Review addresses some of the problems that the burgeoning numbers of international students have presented to Australian education. These include the number of students using education as a pathway to permanent residency, a lowering of educational standards through reduced English language skills proficiency and the unprotected nature of tuition due to numerous unregulated education providers.