International students continue to shun Australia


Late last year, the Morrison Government announced reforms to visa arrangements to ensure a “rapid return of international students”.

The reforms included:

  • granting a two year Temporary Graduate visa to Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector graduates; and
  • extending the temporary graduate visa from two to three years for masters by coursework graduates.

According to the latest arrivals data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), released yesterday, student arrivals have failed to rebound, with only 28,290 arriving in the three months to March 2022. This was well below the 113,230 that arrived in the same period in 2020 and the 238,760 that arrived in the same period in 2019:

Quarterly international student arrivals

In the year to March 2022, only 35,580 international students arrived in Australia, down massively from 561,040 in the year to March 2020 and the 610,270 arrivals in the year to March 2019:

Annual international student arrivals

Australia is facing intense competition for international students from nations like Canada, which have increased access to work rights and permanent residency. As such, Australia is no longer viewed as a preferred destination for international education.


Given the overwhelming majority of Australians do not support a return to mass immigration, most Aussies will be satisfied with this situation. Lower student arrival numbers means the federal government’s insane 240,000 net overseas migration target will be much harder to achieve.

International education has become Australia’s major funnel for our immigration program. Many students came to Australia primarily for work rights and permanent residency, rather than for education purposes.

Basically, universities became ‘middle-men’ to Australia’s immigration system, behaving like migration agents and running degree factories to maximise student fees. Universities lowered entry standards to maximise student numbers, and the ultimate result was a lower quality system.


International student numbers should never be allowed to return to their insane pre-pandemic levels.

About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.