Key Takeaways From the Recent Announcements Made by Canada, UK and Australia Regarding Student and Work-visas

In recent decades, international education has been an important contributor not just towards the global economy, but as a strong manifestation of ‘globalization’. Western nations – UK, US, Canada – and Australia have emerged as sought after educational destination for students from developing countries – many of whom eventually choose to settle in these nations.

While students benefit from higher education in these countries, they also make significant contributions towards the economy of these nations. In 2022, international students contributed $17.5 billion to the Australian economy, $16.5 billion to the Canadian economy and over $50 billion to the UK economy. For 2022-2023, the contribution of international students to the US economy was a staggering $40 billion.

In recent years, the changing geopolitical and economic landscape has resulted in western nations and Australia changing their approach towards immigration.

First, western nations and Australia have sought to alter the composition of the international student pool by reducing their dependence upon a few of countries. This has been attributed to a deterioration of ties between US, UK, Australia and China and a growing realization in these countries that excessive dependence upon Chinese students is detrimental. One of the reasons for US and UK wanting to reduce their dependence upon Chinese students is the access which they get to sensitive technology. In the US, there has been a focus on reducing the intake of Chinese students into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Management) subjects.  There has also been concern  in these countries regarding the impact on academic freedom as well as political interference. A British Member of Parliament (MP) belonging to the Labour Party while commenting on UK’s excessive dependence upon Chinese students remarked: “It’s not ideal that one country dominates the international student community from their own point of view or for others, nor is it good for our universities because there’s always the potential for them to pull the plug at any time.”

Anglosphere countries are trying to make up for the possible short fall in students from China by attracting international students from other countries. Here it would be pertinent to point out, that several Chinese students have begun to pursue higher education in Hong Kong instead of the West.

It is unlikely however, that the number of Chinese students will drastically drop significantly given the revenues they contribute and given the fact that several Chinese students still aspire to get high quality education in the west.  Several education experts as well as academics have also criticised policies restricting the inflow of Chinese students arguing that this is counter-productive not just from an economic stand point, but also because it would impact innovation.

Focus of western countries and Australia on attracting talent 

Another growing focus of countries has been to attract skilled workers and to check the unfettered inflow of students – especially to institutions with questionable educational credentials. In this context, three recent developments are important. First, Canada recently announced an increase in the cost of living for international students applying for post graduate work permits.

Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Marc Miller, announced on Dec. 7, 2023 that the cost-of-living financial requirement for study permit applicants would be raised to Canadian $20,635 (equivalent to around US$15,000) from Canadian $10,000 (equivalent of around $7,400) with effect from Jan. 1, 2024. One of the primary reasons for this step is that several international students join Canadian institutions which do not have high academic standards which according to the minister are “churning out diplomas”. This move is also being attributed to rising cost of living in Canada, though it will not be sufficient. Given the fact, that Canada is a popular destination for students from India – especially states like Panjab and Haryana — this move is unlikely to have any impact in the short run.

Second, Australia announced some changes in its student and work visa. On December 11, 2023, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil stated that with an eye on bringing down immigration numbers the visa regulations for international students and low-skilled workers would be made more stringent. Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, had said that migration numbers needed to be brought down, and the present system was dubbed as “broken”. Net immigration to Australia had peaked to 510,000 in 2022-2023. The Australian government released its ‘migration strategy’. Some of the important changes which will have a bearing on international students are; first, international students will require higher International English Language Testing Schemes (IELTS) scores for student and temporary graduate visas, greater scrutiny of certain applications, and significant changes in the temporary work visa.

Third, UK too has made some important announcement. First, the salary threshold for foreign work visas has been increased. Visa rules for dependents of those on foreign work visas will be toughened and those enrolled in non-research graduate programs will be unable to bring their dependents beginning January 2024.These changes have been introduced with the aim of reducinget migration to 300,000 according to James Cleverly, UK Home Secretary.

Impact on India 

Countries like India, which account for a significant percent of the international student pool, are likely to be impacted by these changes. It is important for all stakeholders – governments, business and academia – to work together and come up with a clear economic vision, whereby there are employment and entrepreneurship opportunities so that students are not compelled to migrate due to push factors. It is also important to sensitize prospective students and migrants to these changes. Several states like Kerala have also introduced schemes for expats who want to start set up businesses and start-up ventures. 

Students, from the developing world, seeking greener pastures abroad should also explore education and career opportunities in Non-western countries especially in countries like UAE which are encouraging foreign talent to give a boost to their R&D and innovation through the green visa and golden visa. 

In conclusion, while the recent announcements by three Anglosphere countries are unlikely to have any impact in the nearer term on the inflow of international students, it is important for prospective students and those seeking career opportunities to keep a close watch on changes related to student and immigration visas, and to remain in sync with the changing landscape by equipping themselves with the required information and skills.

[Photo by Ninara, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

How Strategic Autonomy Played a Central Role in Modi’s Russia Visit?

During the Cold War days, India was the vanguard of the non-aligned movement—a neutral position in the ideological conflict of the superpowers. Neither the...

Rohingya Tragedy: Human Values ​​Must Be Above All

There is no suffering more painful than when humanity is ignored, as experienced by the Rohingya. This tragedy is a clear example of neglect...

India’s Multi-alignment Policy and Its Response to the Ukrainian War

India’s foreign policy under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi firmly stands on the premise that it can serve the country’s national interest...