Migration agent: International education is an immigration scam

Melanie Macfarlane, founding member of the International Student Education Agents Association and member of the Migration Institute of Australia, has penned an article highlighting how the international education industry is the key feeder of the ‘Big Australia’ mass immigration policy.

Macfarlane basically admits that Australia’s international education industry has only grown so big because studying in Australia is a prerequisite for gaining both work rights and permanent residency. She has called for a “national approach” to encourage temporary and permanent migration so that the international education industry does not fall over:

States have been doing as much as they can to support the sector… the states want students to stay and actively encourage them to do so with enticing pathways for those who study in colleges and universities in their towns and cities. It is the federal government that wants to keep the divide in place, making it hard to approve a student visa if the intention is viewed as students wanting to remain permanently…

Every state, except for Victoria and Queensland, has now released its full list of occupations for skilled migration and some have made it abundantly clear that they want students to stay…

The leaders of the states and those working in international education for state government… are prepared to reward them for spending their time and money on studies.

When is the federal government going to wake up to its economic responsibilities when it comes to its fourth largest export industry?

The above is further proof that the core purpose of the international education industry is not to sell education, but permanent residency.

Universities and other higher education providers behave more like migration agents than educators, effectively selling permanent residency via the university bursar’s window.

In a nutshell, the federal government has worked hand-in-glove with universities to create a system that encouraged massive growth in full fee paying international students by:

  1. The federal government offering the world’s most generous student visa working rights (i.e. two to four years) and opportunities for permanent residency; and
  2. Australia’s universities lowering entry and teaching standards to ensure large number of students qualify to study and pass their courses.

The result is that international students are not attracted to Australia for the quality of its education, but rather because studying at an Australian educational institution is a key criteria to gain full work rights and permanent residency.

Australia offers the most generous post-study work rights in the developed world.

Indeed, a recent survey from Deakin and Charles Darwin universities showed that the overwhelming majority of international students perceived the graduate (485) visa to be a vital ingredient to gaining permanent residency:

Post-study work rights (PSWR) are becoming increasingly influential in international students’ decision of study destinations…

Access to the temporary graduate visa is a very important factor in international students’ decision to choose Australia as their study destination…

As shown on Figure 7, participants who remained in Australia at the time of the survey showed high levels of agreements on the ranked statements that the temporary graduate visa has been a pathway to permanent residence.

So, without such generous work rights and the prospect of permanent residency, the whole international education industry would collapse.

The upshot is that the education industry has basically abandoned the pursuit of academic excellence and instead morphed into a giant rent-seeking business focused on pushing through as many students as possible in order to maximise fees and profit.

Thus, increasing entry standards (mainly English-language requirements) and removing the direct link between international students gaining working rights and permanent residency would go a long way to cleaning up the university sector.

The education industry must be made to compete on quality and value alone and not be allowed to profit from cratering standards and acting as middle-men to foreigners pursuing backdoor migration into Australia.

Unconventional Economist


  1. Quality left the building some time ago. I now fear we are also at the end of the era of academics who remember what quality looked like.

    • Yes. The proverbial race to the bottom is an exponential curve. Some of the toe rags I studied with now sit a top this steaming dog Pat within the university department. Without ever working in the industry just writing architecture picture books ….

  2. Migration agent: International education is an immigration scam

    That’s an outrageous slur on our fine Tertiary Education Institutions.

  3. Australia is no longer the first choice for most migrants. It is a very expensive place with third world standards in many things.

    We need these sweeteners to attract immigrants, even if they are not top class/caste.

  4. This is why people vote for a creep like Trump.

    Corporatist neoliberals on both sides since the early 1980s have destroyed this country.

  5. now i wonder when would media start reporting about the endless loop holes available to extend the stay in Australia. few of the ones i have come across are as follows
    Fall Pregnant once you enroll which would extend your stay for the same course fees, your partner can work for the entire length of the stay with no restrictions on hours. on top insurance would take care of Medical cost.
    Quit the course in the last Semster and enroll to a new course, extend the stay with the above mentioned benefit
    Claim that your immediate family member is sick and you have take care of them; would get an extension between 6-12 months
    Newly created bogus companies offer you job and you pay them. Use this job to convert your student Visa to PR

  6. Excellent article. It is sad to see the debasement of what was once an excellent system, producing Nobel prize winners well of out proportion to Australia’s population. What should be done is not hard to figure out.

    The first step needs to be reversing the Dawkins Reforms. We have far too many universities for our population size. Convert the universities that are former colleges of advanced education and the like back into colleges of advanced education. These were much cheaper to run than universities because they did not do research or give advanced degrees. No more than 10% international students at the undergraduate level and no promises of work rights (unless work is required for the course) or permanent residency. No more group assignments, so that domestic students are not forced to work as unpaid tutors. Restore the former high staff/student ratios and stop the debasement of standards. so that the government can no longer use the universities to hide youth unemployment and ensure that those international students pass.

    Stop pretending that education of international students is an export and not a way to provide cheap labour, more customers, and high house prices for the folk at the top. Cut those administrators’ numbers and salaries way back and put them under the authority of the university senate. Then we might have a system to be proud of, one that is primarily intended to advance knowledge and educate our own youth, not run a giant immigration scam and provide a sheltered workshop for the politicians’ cronies.

    • The first step is talking to Australian youth and explaining that their future is being given away to the foreign students sitting next to them in class.They are being forced to compete with them for housing and jobs. If they get angry enough to hit the streets then some change might happen. Chuck in some martial arts training so they’re not totally defenceless. Mostly this message will not get through because it’s very hard not to come across as racist with these things. Why should you be priviledged in the country of your birth? Surely the whole world deserves the right to claim your inheritance? However, if things get bad enough the water will break. When that happens, watch out.