Topics: Universities Australia’s submission to the migration review, skill shortages, visa system, migration
DANICA DE GIORGIO: Joining me now live to discuss is Universities Australia CEO Catriona Jackson. Thank you so much for joining us. Can you explain to us, firstly, how the visa process currently works for universities in Australia?
CATRIONA JACKSON: It’s just a really lumpy and slow process. It’s developed over time and it’s really time for a hard reset on this. We know that all over the country, there are skill shortages that are doing us real damage. We have a terrific supply of highly qualified international graduates, we should be taking better advantage of them and helping them stay here.
DANICA DE GIORGIO: What are you calling for?
CATRIONA JACKSON: It’s quite simple. It’s just a good flushing out of the system, as I said, which is antiquated, not fit for purpose. There are delays, there are just silly visa classes. There are over 100 different kinds of visa class, that makes it really complicated, really untransparent for those applying in the first place. When they get to that graduate stage where they’ve already made a big investment in Australia, they’re doing IT, engineering, they’ve graduated, they’re smart, they’re keen to stay here. In some cases, we make them wait 10 months before they get the visa that means they can actually ply their trade. That’s just silly. We’re really pleased to see the government is putting a big wash through the migration system. Our submission says, let’s just streamline, simplify and keep some of these really smart graduates here to help us with those really nasty skill shortages.
DANICA DE GIORGIO: You’re asking for temporary visas to be given when international students graduate. How would that work?
CATRIONA JACKSON: That’s the bit where we’ve got these silly delays. These students graduate, they’re ready to go and in some cases, we’re getting them to wait 10 months before they can start being an engineer, being an IT specialist. The reason we have so many Uber drivers, who are highly qualified international students, is because we’re stalling them. What happens there is they go home, or they go to another country. The US, Canada, many of our competitors have seen what’s going on here and they’re snapping those people up. Just get that visa into the graduate’s hand which means they can start working and start working in those areas of really nasty skill shortage immediately, not stalling them.
DANICA DE GIORGIO: But would the onus be on the fact that they would have to find a job then?
CATRIONA JACKSON: This has been really clear from the government and from all the representations we’ve made. They’d need to be working in an area of genuine skill shortage and gee, wow, there’s a lot of skill shortages in IT and engineering, nursing. Many of the students are working in those areas. So yes, they’d have to qualify for an area that is a shortage area, and they’d also have to, of course, do all the right things by the visa process, all the character tests, all those things as well.
DANICA DE GIORGIO: Currently, how is the visa system in Australia? How is it impacting our ability to attract the right people to our universities?
CATRIONA JACKSON: I just think it’s a deterrence rather than an encouragement. As a nation, we really need to have a good look at the migration system. It’s terrific to see the Minister, Claire O’Neill has been so frank about this. This is not a system that is working for this country. We agree completely. What we need to do in the modern world is attract really, really smart graduates into these areas of really competitive skill shortage. It’s not just Australia that is having this problem, it’s all over the world. We’re in a serious race here, so if we streamline and smooth out, reduce the number of classes, reduce the complexity and give some clarity to people when they’re applying for a visa – at the moment, if you apply for a visa and you’re overseas, in some cases it takes years for that visa to come through and students in universities have got no way of tracking it. You can track a parcel to Bundaberg these days, so why can’t you have a look at the visa system and work out where the application’s up to and also, frankly, make that faster, just make it faster so those students aren’t going to another country.
DANICA DE GIORGIO: Before we let you go, I just want to ask you about next year’s intake. How’s it looking by way of international students? It’s been a very difficult few years for the university sector but are enrolments near pre-pandemic levels?
CATRIONA JACKSON: That’s a really good question. It has been a really rough couple of years. Things are getting better, we’re not back to pre-pandemic levels. Yes, we’ve still got significant numbers to make up, but the trajectory is in the right direction, and we always said this would be a slow burn. The students who you don’t get in first year, you don’t have in second year and third year. Also, some of these issues we’re discussing with migration, these are the sorts of things that are pull factors for those students so if we clean this up, we’ll get back to pre-pandemic or at least close to sooner than later.
DANICA DE GIORGIO: Catriona Jackson, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
CATRIONA JACKSON: Absolute pleasure and thank you very much to Sky for all your interest in these issues throughout the year and I hope you all have a great Christmas.
DANICA DE GIORGIO: Thank you and Merry Christmas. Thank you.