Australia’s migration reforms add barriers for foreign students

The Federal Government has announced plans to lower migration levels, making it tougher for international students to arrive in Australia.
International students

The Federal Government has announced a strategy to “fix Australia’s broken migration system”, adding more barriers for overseas students coming to Australia.

It will make it harder for international students to enter Australia and crack down on visa worker exploitation.

The Government says this will “bring migration back to sustainable levels”. It comes as overseas migration to Australia increased by 103% to 681,000 in the 12 months to 31 March this year.

Here’s what you need to know.

Why the change?

The Federal Government vowed to reform Australia’s migration processes after a review found parts of the system were “broken”.

The plan is designed to curb a surge in post-pandemic overseas migration. Around 900,000 international students are enrolled to study in Australia, 2.5% higher than before COVID.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the plan “will bring migration numbers back to normal”.

Student migration

International students make up the largest share of “permanently temporary” migrants, a term describing those who’ve lived in Australia for years without permanent residency.

More than 100,000 students and graduates have lived in Australia for more than five years. The Government said students in this category are vulnerable to exploitation and often working below their skill levels.

Student visas

Under the new migration measures, international students will need to meet higher minimum results on a standardised English language test to study in Australia.

The Government is also rolling out a “Genuine Student test” to determine whether a visa applicant’s “primary intention is to work rather than study”.

Education providers

The reforms also target “ghost schools”. These are places where some some students are allegedly enrolled to study for their student visa without actually attending classes.

The Home Affairs Minister will have the power to deem education providers as “high risk”.

Officials will increase their scrutiny of visa applications from these providers. The Government says applications from high-risk centres will take longer to process.

Graduate visas

The Government has shortened the amount of time recently-graduated students can live in Australia. For example, the temporary graduate visa for a Masters grad will go from three to two years.

A new “Skills in Demand” visa will be set up instead to give some workers a path to permanent residence. It will overhaul a sponsorship system that limits some workers from changing employers.

In essence, this is because some migrant workers visa status depends on an employer vouching for (or ‘sponsoring’) them.


The Government said the sponsorship system has led to instances of worker exploitation because migrants can become reliant on an employer to stay in Australia.

The Government will set up a public register of approved employers to sponsor temporary migrant workers.

All listed sponsors will need to provide details including how many migrant workers they employ.


Shadow Immigration Minister Dan Tehan criticised the measures over a lack of support for regional areas, which he said have been treated “as an afterthought”. Tehan said changes to the sponsorship system would see fewer temporary migrants working in hospitals and schools in regional communities.

Unions and business groups have broadly welcomed the reforms, which Universities Australia said will help to meet national “skills and economic needs in the coming decades”.

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