For Indian students, work visas and residency are the prize

Late last year, Canada’s Globe & Mail reported on how hundreds of thousands of Indian students have flooded into Canada in search of permanent residency [my emphasis]:

Grey Matters, which sees 7,000 to 8,000 students each month at its 56 locations in India, is one of many such centres in Chandigarh’s sprawling Sector-17 market, a hub of retail stores and education institutes that has become known as a one-stop shop for young Indians itching to begin their adult lives abroad.

Businesses like this all over the country send tens of thousands of Indian students like Manjinder to Canada each year – 105,192 were enrolled in Canadian universities and colleges in the 2018-2019 school year, the most recent period for which data are available. They promise a new life, jobs, houses and prosperity and – ever since the federal government introduced a series of programs in 2009 that opened the gates more widely to Indian students – a chance at the ultimate prize: Canadian citizenship…

Bringing Indian students to Canada has become a lucrative business spanning two continents. In India, there are language schools, recruiters, immigration consultants and lenders, all of whom have profited handsomely from the study-abroad craze. Once students arrive in Canada, postsecondary institutions, landlords, immigration consultants and employers profit from their growing presence…

The vast majority of Indian students… are registered at colleges (73 per cent). Students and recruitment businesses interviewed by The Globe say this is because most Indian students want to come to Canada to live rather than learn…

Gurpreet Malhotra, the executive director of Indus Community Services, says he’s come to see private colleges in Canada as being in the business of immigration, not education. “The colleges are getting easy money, and the students are getting an easy way to get to Canada”…

Yesterday, The Guardian posted a similar article explaining how more Indian students would be enticed to study in the United Kingdom if it extended post-study work visas to three years:

International students would be more likely to consider studying in the UK if they were allowed to stay and work for three years instead of two, a survey suggests…

An extension would be especially appealing to Indian students, with nearly three-quarters (73%) saying three years would make them a lot more likely to consider the UK. Numbers of Indian students choosing to study in the UK fell dramatically after the abolition of the two-year post-study work visa in 2012, and have quadrupled since it was reinstated.

These reports are no surprise. As shown in the below graphic, the overwhelming majority of students from the Indian subcontinent undertook paid employment in Australia to support themselves, which by extension means that Indian students are not a genuine export but rather a people import:

International student labour force participation

Just like Canada and the United Kingdom, a recent study by IDP Connect revealed how the prime motivation for Indian students to study in Australia is to gain permanent residency and work rights:

IDP Connect’s New Horizons research shows international students consider migration incentives and employment opportunities when choosing where, what and how to study. “We’ve seen a significant decrease in interest from Indian students looking to study in Australia,” said Wharton, who said a key motivation for Indian students’ decision to study abroad include migration and face-to-face learning opportunities…

Wharton said if Australia can communicate a roadmap towards a large-scale return of international students, with clear pathways towards employment and migration outcomes, Australia could be in a good position to retain its status as a leading study abroad destination…

The former vice-chancellor of Macquarie University, Professor Steven Schwartz, similarly admitted that many international students only study in Australia to gain working rights and permanent residency:

[Professor Schwartz] said foreign students flock to courses likely to lead to jobs and permanent residency…

“Permanent residency is one of the main motivations to study in Australia’…

“If suddenly permanent residency was given to people who study poetry, it’s likely they’d all be doing poetry.”

New Delhi-based education consultant Gauravdeep Bumra noted the similar:

“Most Indian students choose to study abroad, often at the cost of thousands of dollars, because they have a long-term goal of getting permanent residency, be it in Australia, Canada or the UK”.

“The day they open their borders, the student intake numbers will uptick…”

As has The Australian’s international education correspondent, Tim Dodd:

“Too many of the expanding numbers of students from India and the sub continent were in low quality, generic business courses, and hoping for permanent residency without having in-demand skills”.

Any move to lift international student numbers and immigration will necessarily require Australia to reach further down the quality barrel and erode entry standards even further. Doing so would be detrimental for the long-run productivity and prosperity of Australia, which relies upon quality education and skills.

Instead of lowering the quality bar even further to boost numbers, Australia’s international education system should instead target a smaller intake of high quality students via:

  1. Lifting entry standards (particularly English-language proficiency);
  2. Lifting financial requirements needed to enter Australia; and
  3. Removing the link between studying, work rights and permanent residency.

These reforms would raise student quality, would lift genuine export revenues per student, would lift wage growth by removing competition in the jobs market, and would lower enrolment numbers to sensible and sustainable levels, in turn improving the experience for local students.

Put simply, Australia’s higher education sector must be focused on ‘higher learning’ rather than ‘higher earning’. International education needs to become a genuine export industry rather than a people importing immigration industry.

Sadly, we all know these reforms would never happen. If work rights and permanent residency were scaled back, the numbers of students arriving would collapse.

Our policy makers will instead crater standards even further to entice as many warm bodies into Australia as possible. Because the edu-migration industry rent-seekers demand it.

Unconventional Economist
Latest posts by Unconventional Economist (see all)


  1. Great day for Indian “students” coming here. Treasurer Jim Chalmers has found his perfect mass immigration partner in Clare O’Neil at Home Affairs.

      • Boilerplate Albanese Labor, she loves Big Australia, wants the “reset” for more “skilled” migrants, isn’t seeing the post-COVID Treasury plan to crush jobs and wages with the highest levels of net migration ever. Same old bait and switch. A Cistercian monastery or CCP politburo might have more diversity of opinion than this Cabinet:

        • “So what kind of immigration program will help Australia flourish in the coming decades?

          I’m arguing today that one of the pivotal changes we need to make in the post-COVID world is to fire up engines for growth around manufacturing, science and technology.

          Immigration can help us do it.

          We want the best engineers from around the world to come to Australia. The best IT experts, the smartest data scientists.

          Before COVID, we had a migration program in place where it was quite easy to come to Australia as an unskilled temporary migrant, but very hard to come as a skilled permanent migrant.

          The Grattan Institute has reported that since 2005, the number of net skilled permanent migrants coming to Australia each year has stayed roughly the same – at somewhere around 30,000 people.

          Yet in that time, the number of temporary unskilled migrants has grown by roughly two-and-a-half-times. In 2005 we had about 400,000 unskilled temporary migrants in Australia.

          Just before COVID, that number was about 800,000. When we add skilled temporary migrants, that number rises to just under a million.

          This radical transformation to our immigration program happened without a White Paper, without a policy process, and without a national discussion.

          It was and is a profound change. Not just because of these large numbers, but because our approach to immigration has historically, and quite deliberately, been about permanency and citizenship, not temporariness and conditionality.

          This is not a dog whistle.

          I am arguing here in favour of immigration, strongly. And this is not about race – I’m not making any comment about where migrants come from.

          I’m saying that we need to make an economic transformation in our country, and that immigration can help us do it – but it’s not going to happen if we just go back to the way things were before.

          Of the most successful technology companies in America today, more than half were started by immigrants.

          Highly skilled people can lift the performance of everyone around them.

          They could help companies headquartered in Australia become world-class.

          And start their own innovative firms that employ hundreds of Australians.

          Yet people with these unique skills – if they could ever make it to Australia – would have almost no pathway to stay here.

          How is that in our national interest?

          We have a genuine, one-off chance here to rebuild this program and attract the best and brightest minds from around the world – and invite them to become Australian.

          After all, who wouldn’t want to be living in Australia right now? There is division and disease in almost every other country in the world.

          I spoke with Nyadol Nuon and George Megalogenis on the pod about another big opportunity that exists here, too.

          Immigration is crucial for Australia, but the public discussion that doesn’t always reflect that.

          Immigration will be integral to our recovery – if we get it right.

          And it will provide, too, a chance for us to demonstrate beyond doubt how much Australian needs migrants, and the huge and unique contribution they make to our country.”

          It’s not true that temporary migrants don’t have a pathway to permanent residency. That is just false.

          Another alarm bell is that O’Neil is taking advice from Big Australia enthusiast George Megalogenis.

          Note that there is no mention of optimum immigration numbers, just flowery rhetoric about how we need lots and lots of permanent migrants to support new industries. She even harks back to the Chifley era to draw a false parallel. Really sloppy thinking. It doesn’t auger well.

          O’Neil doesn’t have any complaint about high immigration numbers at all. She just thinks Australia should be handing out permanent residency and citizenship even more liberally.

        • We have a genuine, one-off chance here to rebuild this program and attract the best and brightest minds from around the world –

          We sort of fluked it last time around, back in the 1950’s, we had many a bright person come here, a disproportionately high number from eastern Europe and the Batlic nations. There was a lot of wonderful, organic knowledge transference in Australia by the 1970’s… a generation.

          Combined with the harvester ruling, cheap land and full employment policies many were able to shape their own opportunity, however….

          and invite them to become Australian.

          How does the government propose they fulfil this? How do they define what becoming Australian entails?

          What is it… residency? A form of squatting really…. is that it? Or is there more?

          • “How does the government propose they fulfil this? How do they define what becoming Australian entails?”

            I suspect O’Neil’s answer is to throw around permanent residency and Australian citizenship like confetti. Australia already has some of the most liberal naturalisation requirements in the developed world. But that evidently isn’t liberal enough for Labor.

            O’Neil’s silly argument rests on the notion that “highly skilled” people are somehow unable to obtain permanent residency in Australia, which is in turn allegedly depriving the country of potential Elon Musks. This ignores the multitude of visa pathways and Australia’s extremely generous permanent migrant intake by developed world standards.

            MB and the Australian Population Research Institute have been pointing out for years how Australia’s immigration program has a record of delivering large numbers of professionals in fields that are already oversupplied, resulting in poor labour market outcomes. We are already awash with “skilled” permanent migrants, many of whom end up working in semi-skilled and non-skilled jobs in Australia.

            The real problem is that Australia’s immigration intake has been way too large and poorly targeted for decades.

            Maybe O’Neil should examine how Nordic countries have been able to develop strong manufacturing, science and technology sectors – all without mass immigration.

  2. Shows you how Sh!t Australia is, we only attract 3rd world people that won’t assimilate.
    Dumb country

    • Well, I dunno, I’ve never seen a more enthusiastic embrace of the Toyota Camry than by the Indians where I live.

    • Rusty Prick has devised the method to “ass-imilate” them (provided they are youngish, childbearing age, females)

    • Lol, we definitely attract a bunch of 1st worlders that refuse to integrate too, just have a look at the efforts here of our very own kodiak and LBS, seppo scum that hang it hard on Australia but took full advantage to plunder the nation for what they can.

      Been to a hospital lately? So many pommie and irish nurses and they’re all still in their home country cliques and refuse to assimilate. Don’t get me started on the Canucks and Saffas…

      I love it that most people ignore the downside of all this 1st world immigration and just focus on the brown ones. Stop immigration, start investing in training.

  3. Jonathan Rubenstein

    IF we truly want “diversity” we should limit immigration so that no more than 10% of immigrants can come from one country.

    • IF we truly want “diversity

      Other than elevating incompetents to positions of power, that’s not what ‘we’ really want.

  4. I am all for more international students coming here so that I may continue to buy butter chicken and naan cheaply

    • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

      I reckon moussaka is heaps better than lasagne so I’d like to see more Greeks rather than Italians coming here.

      • It is funny that you joke but people like immigration because they get many different flavoured ‘kebabs’ that is delivered to them by a ‘skilled’ migrant. This little delight comes at such a huge cost but they refuse to see it due to the racist card. Australians will be renters in their own country and all for some better takeaway food and feeling warm and fuzzy that they are not racists.

        • This reminds me of an observation made by American writer Christopher Caldwell: “Bizarrely, as immigration began to change Europe at its economic and cultural core, the political vocabulary remained the same as when immigration had been a fringe phenomenon. People kept talking about restaurants.”

      • Yes fully second you Ermo we need a shipload of Greek slaves!I would love a 50% discount on my Souvlakis

  5. Where is the net benefit to Australians from all this? Soon after residency, many will have kids in taxpayer funded hospitals, use our schools and then demand two elderly parents and maybe even some step-parents as well, should be allowed to come in.

    Just like the UK, we also need a Migration Watch body that can quote to the media, all the costs to Australians of this mass immigration, in response to articles that only point out supposed benefits. Maybe they could partner with Macrobusiness to do their research. Does anyone know who’s behind the UK’s Migration Watch?

    • Where is the net benefit to Australians from all this?

      There is none. These decisions aren’t meant to be for the benefit of Australians.

      Soon after residency, many will have kids in taxpayer funded hospitals, use our schools and then demand two elderly parents and maybe even some step-parents as well, should be allowed to come in.

      That’s a rational decision, from their behalf.

      Just like the UK, we also need a Migration Watch body that can quote to the media,

      Immigrants don’t think Australia needs this at all.

      • “These decisions aren’t meant to be for the benefit of Australians.”

        Prioritising the interests of one’s fellow citizens over the rest of the world is seen as parochial and racist among our ruling class. Mass immigration advocacy makes such types feel morally superior: they don’t look out for the welfare of their fellow citizens, so that makes them better than their fellow citizens.

    • According to Wikipedia (read with caution):

      “MigrationWatch UK was founded in December 2001 by Sir Andrew Green, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia. In an article in The Independent, Deborah Orr writes that the organisation came into being when, “after reading some of his anti-immigration letters in The Times”, the then Sir Andrew approached David Coleman, Professor of Demography at Oxford University, and they subsequently set up MigrationWatch.”

      Migration Watch UK says that it relies entirely on contributions from the public to fund its operations.