Major policy shift targets international students
The McGowan has reversed one of its first policy initiatives, announcing over the weekend that Perth will once again be classified as a ‘region’, making it easier for international students to gain work after their studies.
The change follows a persistent slide in Western Australia’s share of international students, and repeated calls from industry groups for the government to act.
The change was jointly announced with federal finance minister Mathias Cormann, after the federal government agreed to the new approach.
It also agreed to classify the Gold Coast as a regional city.
Senator Cormann said international students who want to study in Perth will now be eligible for an additional year in Australia on a post-study work visa.
“That additional year of post-study work by international students who choose Perth will not only benefit students with work experience, income, and post-study financial stability, but also help drive stronger economic growth,” minister Cormann said
The state government’s decision is a major shift from its stance in 2017, when it pushed for WA’s removal from the regional skilled migration scheme (RSMS).
"One of my first acts as premier of Western Australia was to write to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to request that Perth be removed from the RSMS,” premier Mark McGowan said in June 2017.
“This is an important election commitment that we've moved quickly to deliver.”
The 2017 decision was made in tandem with dramatic cutbacks to the Western Australian Skilled Migration Occupation List, which was cut from 178 occupations to just 18.
Both changes were designed to maximise the number of jobs filled by Western Australians and were strongly backed by the trade union movement.
While the WASMOL list has not been amended, Perth’s reassignment as a regional city indicates an acceptance the 2017 decision has damaged WA’s ability attract international students.
Mr McGowan appeared to acknowledge this on the weekend.
“It’s all very complex but if mistakes have been made we're certainly making sure they're all fixed today,” he told media.
He also indicated there were other factors at play, saying the 2007 decision was made because of the way WA’s regional migration status interacted with section 457 visas, which have since been abolished. In addition, he noted that WA has no major university campuses outside of Perth.
Announcing the new policy, Mr McGowan talked up the benefits of more international students.
“Attracting more international students will help diversify and grow the State’s economy and also create employment opportunities for Western Australians,” he said on Saturday.
WA education and training minister Sue Ellery said WA’s international education sector was worth about $2 billion and currently supports 14,600 full-time jobs.
StudyPerth said the change will offer several additional opportunities and attractions for international students, including:
- an additional 5 points on the points test (to meet the Department of Home Affairs’ minimum threshold for points tested visas) for studying in a regional area;
- access to an additional year of post-study work for international higher education and post-graduate students. Students will have the ability to gain an addition year of work experience and eligibility for skills assessments required to apply for skilled visas (including State nominated visas).
“Perth provides the ideal environment for international students to live and learn,” executive director Philip Payne said.
“Today’s announcement means that Perth now offers additional attractions to international students and additional opportunities for them to prosper after they complete their studies.”
Australian Hotels Association (WA) chief executive Bradley Woods said the common sense move will see Western Australia become a more attractive destination for international students, which will help drive more visitors to the state.
“The AHA has long advocated for Perth to have its status as a regional city reinstated,” Mr Woods said.
“Today’s announcement will provide WA with an important boost in the competitive international education market.
“International students play an important role in attracting friends and family as visitors, so today’s announcement will deliver several significant benefits for WA’s hotels and hospitality businesses.”
“This is a major win, not only for education providers and the people they employ, but also for struggling small and medium sized business as it will provide better access to the skills they need to invest and grow,” Mr Rodwell said.
“Perth’s regional designation will give WA businesses freer access to valuable skills, with priority visa processing and a wider range of occupations that can be filled through migration channels.“
Shadow Minister for Tourism Alyssa Hayden said she welcomed the government’s latest backflip but it didn’t go far enough.
"The Premier’s ill-conceived election promise to have Perth removed from the Regional Skills Migration Scheme had a disastrous effect on our international student numbers, costing WA millions of dollars,” Mrs Hayden said.
“After realising his mistake, the Premier secretly wrote to Canberra in June to ask that it be overturned and I’m pleased to see that the Federal Government has reinstated Perth’s classification as a regional city.
“Unfortunately, the Premier has only asked that this decision be overturned for international students, even though this dumb decision has also cost the hospitality sector dearly.”