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Sector calls for government to kill visa bill
Old 23rd June 2010, 07:51 PM   #1
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Default Sector calls for government to kill visa bill

STUDENTS and universities fear the consequences of residency changes.

UMUT Ozguc is the kind of foreign research talent Australia needs in order to to fend off the skills shortage, but she is worried she may have to pack and leave the country in 28 days under proposed visa changes.

Universities Australia has called for natural justice for overseas students caught up in the government's crackdown on dodgy colleges. Ozguc, meanwhile, describes the latest moves concerning residency applications by former overseas students as undemocratic.

"My concern is about the [proposed visa] capping bill that gives an immigration minister unlimited power to cancel any residency application at any time," she says.

The Turkish national has completed a two-year research masters in political science at the University of NSW, worked there as a researcher, and is now a doctoral candidate.

Ozguc - who specialises in immigration and border security - applied for permanent residency last year before crucial student visa changes were announced by Immigration Minister Chris Evans in February.

However, she and thousands of other overseas students, here for years waiting for their residency applications to be approved, now fear their lives will be upended by the changes, which they dub the "kill bill".

"No one is safe. Chris Evans says he won't use the powers except in an emergency, but there are elections this year so we don't know who will be minister next year," she says.

Ozguc - who is on a bridging visa - says she doesn't think it is fair that students who made valid applications for residency before the February changes may have to leave the country if the visa capping bill passes later this year.

"I find it an undemocratic way of dealing with residency applications," she says.

UA chief executive Glenn Withers tells the HES the capping proposals are the latest of a series of decisions that have not been well thought through.

"The failure to understand the need to provide natural justice to international students when rules change is particularly problematic," he says.

Withers says universities would prefer that the government not change the rules mid-stream for students already onshore.

Universities have supported government moves to recruit more highly skilled migrants and clean up the rorting of the student visa program by the bottom end of the private vocational sector.

However, they are now worried for two reasons about the abrupt and rapid changes to the student visa regime.

First, they are worried by the government's interventions given their reliance on overseas student fee income to help fund domestic university teaching.

And second, they are worried by what they describe as the "overwhelming impending structural shortage" of the academics and tutors needed to staff universities and train the next generation of professionals.

However, Evans last week defended the fairness of the visa rule changes, claiming grandfathering arrangements in the form of the 18-month bridging visa had been extended to more than 100,000 former overseas students.

Monash University demographer Bob Birrell says these students - here before the February announcement - could apply for this bridging visa when they finished their courses, even if their occupation was not on the new skilled occupation list.

"So in this sense, overseas students have actually been favoured relative to other potential applicants for Australian visas," Birrell says.

However, former Australian Council of Education and Training chief Tim Smith describes the proposed visa changes as arbitrary.

Smith says he is especially concerned about the 70,000 students who came to study in Australia before the announcement of the review of the migration program in December 2008.

These students - now mostly in their final year - had come to Australia when government practice - if not policy - rewarded students in key courses with residency, he says.

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