Subjects: regional migration, international students.
KARL STEFANOVIC: Changes to Australia’s migration program means it will be harder for foreign students to stay here, and easier for people to settle in regional areas. This year the number of skilled independent visas will be slashed by 16,000 places to about 18,500. Meantime, there’ll be 23,000 skilled regional visas, as well as 25,000 areas of nomination by the states and territories, which will mainly involve regional settlement. The director of the Population Research Institute, Dr Bob Birrell, says the rebalanced program is bad news for thousands of overseas students trying to stay here permanently after their studies. But could this be a much needed boost for the bush?
David Coleman, Federal Immigration Minister, joins me now. David, good afternoon to you.
DAVID COLEMAN: Good afternoon Karl.
KARL STEFANOVIC: What are your thoughts?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well look Karl, as you said this is a boost to the bush. So what we’re doing is saying 23,000 spots dedicated in the program for people that commit to regional Australia for at least three years. And we are pulling back on the total rate of migration, so a new lower cap of 160,000 people this year. And basically what that means is a lower migration intake into Sydney and Melbourne in particular, where we do have real congestion issues, and more people going to regional centres. And that’s good, because there are lots of regional centres in Australia that are really crying out for more people to fill skills gap.
KARL STEFANOVIC: To borrow an old saying, it’s a tale of two cities, isn’t it. I mean, you have some areas of the country that desperately need some of these jobs to come in, and you have others that can’t. So putting it back on the states to say, okay, they can go here or there, does make a bit of sense.
DAVID COLEMAN: Yeah exactly, so South Australia’s a classic example. They’ve had low population growth for quite some time down there, and the state government and the broader community is very supportive of filling those skills gaps with immigration when needed. Whereas obviously in Sydney and Melbourne, we’ve had significant population growth. So it is a very different story in different parts of the country. I guess historically the immigration program’s always had a strong view about the total number of people, but what we’re saying now is in addition to the total number, we’ve also got a strong view about the distribution, and I think that makes sense.
KARL STEFANOVIC: What would the moratorium be on the amount of time they’d have to spend in those areas – but I know you’d fill jobs straight away in some of the fruit businesses, the fruit picking businesses, and same in some of those agricultural sectors. But do they have to stay after that period?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, there’s two different types. So there’s working holiday makers, which is backpackers, and for them we’ve introduced some extra incentives to go regional. And we’ve just announced last week that there’s been a 20 per cent increase in the number of backpackers going regional, so it’s gone up by about 7000 which is good news. And then for the 23,000 spots, that’s in the permanent program, those people have to commit to regional Australia for at least three years. And if they do that, they become eligible for permanent residency.
KARL STEFANOVIC: How do you police it?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well basically, when they apply after the three years, they’ll need to demonstrate through their bank details, through their payment details, residential details, all those things, that they have in fact stayed for three years. And it’s a very strong incentive, because one of the key reasons that migrants want to come to Australia is the promise of permanent residency, and unless those people can prove that they’ve actually stayed in regional Australia, they won’t get permanent residency.
KARL STEFANOVIC: We know foreign students are big business for this country, and by making it harder for foreign students to get permanent residency, are we possibly risking that industry, which brings a lot of money into the economy?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, you’re right in saying it’s a really important industry, one of our top three or four and about $35 billion a year, but we’re actually encouraging foreign students to settle in regional Australia as well. So if they go to a regional uni, they’ll get an extra year on their graduate visa, so generally three years rather than two. And in terms of the opportunities to apply for skilled migration, whether it’s in the regions or through the states and territories or through an employer, they have the same ability to apply as someone who’s applying offshore. So it’s not disadvantaging foreign students, it’s just saying that we do have priorities about regional migration, and that’s applying across the board.
KARL STEFANOVIC: Good to talk to you this afternoon David, really appreciate it.
DAVID COLEMAN: Thanks Karl.