With the Australian Federal Elections just around the corner, anxiety is running high amongst international students, with the outcome of the election determining their futures.
What was once irrelevant, is now a deciding factor in the future of over 350 000 international university students and their families seeking permanent residency in Australia’s major cities.
The Morrison government has proposed to cap migration at 160 000 per year. The objective being to decrease congestion in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane by directing immigrants to regional areas, where three years residence will be required before qualifying for permanent residency.
International student at the University of New South Wales, Ivy Nguyen, 22, says “I didn’t care about politics until I realised it’s going to directly affect my life”. Now, the thought is a constant weight on her shoulders.
The idea of resettling in regional Australia in a desperate attempt to fill the strict immigration requirements Morrison proposes, is the confronting realisation many like Ivy are coming to.
The Liberal government believes new laws will not only cut immigration numbers but also cut waiting periods for applications, which had previously kept people in limbo for years at a time.
But many don’t like the looks of the proposed changes, “we don’t want to settle down… not again!” Ivy says, “humans are creatures of habit, once were settled we don’t want to change”.
Education and Migration Services advisor, Afjal Bahelim, believes “The government needs a consistent policy”, saying international students are not only concerned but confused about their futures. Many students believe the new policy aims to dictate the future of current immigrants, leaving them with little choice if they want to secure a permanent place in Australia.
Morrison has introduced the use of incentives to attract students to study outside of major cities. Promising to offer 1000 scholarships worth $15 000 and an additional year in Australia on a study work visa to promote relocating to regional areas.
Despite the seemingly harsh regulations, some believe it’s a step in the right direction, and could mean economic growth for the country.
Having worked with countless international students, Afjal Bahelim says “students should not come to Australia with the expectation of permanent residency”. He goes on to say, “they must have the right intentions”, coming across hundreds desperate to establish a life in Australia and using education to secure a place.
However, many like Ivy are under immeasurable family pressure. With the government’s proposed policy threatening to ruin plans for a life after university, concerned is an understatement.
“They kept telling me… ‘if you go back to Vietnam that’s a waste… that’s the end of it’”
The chances of Ivy’s family ever starting a life in Australia is completely dependant on her ability to obtain permanent residency. However Morrison’s policy could throw a spanner in the works.
Nursing student at the University of Sydney, Helena Li, 22, feels a similar sense of expectation and responsibility for the future of her family.
“They want me to stay in Australia because it is pitied to come back to China when they have spent all that money for me to study here”.
Helena also worries about disappointing her family, to the point where completing three years in a regional area is just something she’s begun to accept.
Knowing the extent of their families investment, Helena and Ivy can agree that permanent residency is anything but expected. With talk of immigration cuts, apprehension is growing as they contemplate their futures, and their families.
One can definitely empathise with situations like Ivy and Helena’s, although many see the policy as a necessary action for the country.
Local UNSW student, Harriet Marshall, 20, understands the pressure international students are facing, “they’re taking huge risks and the government is shutting them down”. Harriet admits she sees the proposed policy being limiting to international students who are forced to move to regional areas, acknowledging cities like Sydney “are where the opportunities are”.
However, locals like Helena have also expressed their concern for the inflating population, saying “something had to give”.
The liberal’s proposal to cap immigration intake is said to serve the economic interests of the country. With the ability to direct the migration benefits to states looking for greater growth, Morrison believes it’s a win-win situation for all parties.
But international students are unconvinced. Ivy and Helena share their experiences of discrimination in the job market being immigrant applicants, believing this policy can only hinder their access to opportunities.
“To me, it seemed like every student had equal opportunities, but it didn’t turn out that way… the discrimination towards us is pretty obvious”, Helena says. After experiencing great difficulty finding employment as a nurse, Helena felt an inequality and lack of competition between herself and Australian citizens, believing things could only get worse if relocated to regional areas.
“My friend considered changing her last name to seem more local when applying for jobs” Ivy confessed. The underlying discrimination towards international students is growing louder. As Bahelim explains, “companies prefer to hire permanent residents to avoid continuously hiring and re-training immigrant employees”.
Despite the obvious preference for permanent residents by employers, the goal to cut down immigration numbers remains, with the Morrison government standing by the policies benefits for the country.
So until May 18, international students in major cities of Australia will continue to nervously await the results, hoping future plans may still go ahead.