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Australia tightens student visa rules as migration hits record high

Commuters and trams cross Bourke Street in Melbourne, Australia, June 13, 2017. — REUTERS

SYDNEY — Australia will begin enforcing tougher visa rules for foreign students this week as official data showed migration hit another record high, which is likely to further exacerbate an already tight rental market.

From Saturday, English language requirements for student and graduate visas will be increased, while the government will get the power to suspend education providers from recruiting international students if they repeatedly break rules.

“The actions this weekend will continue to drive migration levels down while delivering on our commitments in the migration strategy to fix the broken system we inherited,” Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said in a statement.

A new “genuine student test” will be introduced to further crack down on international students who look to come to Australia primarily to work, while the imposition of “no further stay” conditions will be used on more visitor visas.

The moves follow a raft of actions last year to close off COVID-era concessions introduced by the former government, including unrestricted working hours for international students. The government at the time said rules would be tightened for students that could halve its migrant intake over two years.

Australia boosted its annual migration numbers in 2022 to help businesses recruit staff to fill shortages after the COVID-19 pandemic brought strict border controls, and kept foreign students and workers out for nearly two years.

But the sudden influx of foreign workers and students has exacerbated pressure on an already tight rental market.

Date released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday showed net immigration rose 60% to a record 548,800 in the year to Sept. 30, 2023, higher than the 518,000 people in the year ending June 2023.

Overall, Australia’s population rose 2.5% — the fastest pace on record — to 26.8 million people in the year to last September.

The record migration — driven by students from India, China and Philippines — has expanded labor supply and restrained wage pressures, but it exacerbated an already tight housing market where rental vacancies hovered at record lows and elevated construction costs restricted new supply.

Ms. O’Neil said the government’s actions since September have led to a decline in migration levels, with recent international student visa grants down by 35% on the previous year. — Reuters

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