Canada is one of the world’s favourite destinations for international students, but Australia is looking to claim the top spot.

With COVID-19 slowly receding into historical memory, universities around the world are strategizing on how to encourage a new stream of international students, who typically pay much higher fees than their domestic counterparts. Australia, one of the world’s leading proponents of recruiting international students, is working hard to become the most popular spot.

Some universities in Australia hover around 50% international student enrollment, relying on the tuition differential to support local students. China is one of the largest source countries, providing a significant chunk of operating costs for some Australian schools.

Australia faced a shortage of incoming students throughout the pandemic, when for nearly two years, few new international students enrolled. Now, Australia’s doing its best to lure students back — and keep them in-country after graduation.

Only about 16% of international graduates stay in Australia to become permanent residents after graduation, despite the government’s two-year post-study work permits. By contrast, in Canada, the figure is about 27%. Australia is exploring extending their post-study permit program by two years, potentially allowing bachelor’s degree holders to stay in Australia for four years.

Australia has also removed their cap on international students’ working hours, something the Canadian government has recently announced here at home. Both countries are doing so on a temporary basis, but the unlimited-hours project will last until mid- or late 2023 at the least.

This change could mean international students enter the country to study, ostensibly, but instead spend an inordinate amount of time working rather than studying. These pilot projects will offer insight as they progress, as it’s not clear how widespread this issue will be.

Australia, like Canada, is facing skills shortages in certain sectors, making the recruitment of international students an important factor for the economy. Enrolling students who want to stay and build a life in their new home is one of the key goals of both governments, but it’s important these students not get stuck in their “university jobs” in areas such as hospitality, retail, and agriculture.

Still, Australia’s student visa system presents some obstacles. Applicants must pass a “genuine temporary entrant” test, proving they don’t intend to stay on in-country after graduation. Student visas can be refused if a border official thinks a student may want to become a permanent resident. The left hand is unaware of what the right hand’s doing, which is causing headaches for Australia’s student recruitment efforts.

Canada is still one of the world’s foremost destinations for international students. While it’s not a perfect system, our migrant-first approach is a global gold standard. Australia is working hard to make changes to their systems and encourage a broader array of international students. Canada should observe their efforts, and respond as needed to maintain our position as a top spot for international students to study, live, work, and thrive.

With thanks to John Ross of THE for inspiration and sourcing.

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