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Associations push back over skyrocketing student visas

Tourism, hospitality and the export services sector stand to be affected by a government decision targeting the international education industry.

The Australian government has dramatically increased the cost of an international student visa from $710 to $1,600 as a branch impost of its wider foreign migration strategy.

The 225% increase to the visa fee is aimed at playing a role in limiting foreign migration to Australia but may have a ripple effect on tourism, hospitality and the export industry’s workforce.

The government is also aiming to end the practice of “visa hopping”, which has allowed students and other temporary visa holders to extend their stay, in some cases indefinitely.

Accommodation Australia CEO, Michael Johnson, said the association will be watching carefully to see if the fee increase forces students to go elsewhere.

“At the moment we have about 725,000 international students studying in Australia, which is approximately 100,000 more than we had pre-pandemic,” he said.

“I think from the government’s perspective, they have indicated they’re looking to see it go back to levels prior to the pandemic,” which Johnson added should not be a problem for the tourism and hospitality sectors in terms of sourcing staff.

“I think the concern is if student numbers drop below that, then we will find ourselves with worker shortages again.”

Johnson said that in the early months after the pandemic, some hotels were forced to close rooms due to an industry-wide shortage of housekeeping staff, with some operating at or below 60%.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve opened over 22,500 hotel rooms across the country, so there is that element to consider,” he said.

“The number of students that we’ve had come back has been quite phenomenal…it has closed that gap in the workforce, particularly in our housekeeping departments and in hospitality, where students like to work.

“We have concerns and will certainly be keeping a watching brief on it,” Johnson added.

Group of Eight Australia CEO Vicki Thomson was more critical of the move, describing it as the final nail in the coffin for the international education sector.

“Far from ‘restoring integrity in the international education sector’ this measure will be a deterrent to international students,” Thomson said.

“The recent crackdown on visa approvals has already sent a strong signal that we are not open for business.”

At the same time, Federal Parliament is debating a bill which will impose caps on the number of international students that can study in Australia.

“The consequence of rushing this legislation through Parliament, without proper consultation, is equivalent to economic vandalism and runs counter to the Government’s own rhetoric on the need for consultation with the sector,” Thomson added.

“At risk is our $48 billion export sector. Jobs will be lost across the economy.”

Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) and the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) were unable to comment before our deadline.

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