There are some 250,000 foreigners studying at Australian tertiary institutions and two-thirds of them don’t want to be.

Don’t want to be foreign, that is. According to a Graduate Careers Australia survey of more than 30,000 domestic and international students, 65 per cent of foreigners intend applying for permanent residence. Only 26 per cent intend to return home with the remainder intending to live in other countries.

Says GCA executive director Cindy Tilbrook: “With the current skills shortage in some areas, many recruiters are taking an increasing interest in graduating international students.”

Enter the 485 visa, hot on the heels of the 475. There’s also the 476 visa for graduates with specified desirable skills, but it was the 485 that was slipped into the effective guest worker options in last year’s federal budget papers without any indication of possible numbers.

The 485 allows any graduate from an Australian tertiary institution unrestricted employment and study rights for 18 months. It’s also an excellent opportunity to acquire the required “120 points” to qualify for permanent residency although that’s not a straight-forward business, as indicated in this National Liaison Committee for International Students in Australia story.

The 485 visa initiative looks like a useful tool for helping ease Australia’s skills shortage and chronic under-investment in education, but along with the 475 “guest worker” visa, it’s another way of fudging gross immigration numbers.

We were being conservative when we were the first to suggest Australia was looking at gross immigration of some 300,000 this financial year. The official government numbers don’t count New Zealanders, 475, 476 or 485 visa holders — though they all have to live, eat, drink and travel while they’re here.

The official net permanent migration number is expected to grow by 37,500 this year and it’s easy to forecast that the rapidly-slowing New Zealand economy will see a jump in those crossing the ditch as well.

Crikey is no home of xenophobes and flat earthers — we leave that to the Greens, Hansonites and fellow travellers who would like to freeze our population and economy — but greater transparency about the enormous strains being put on our infrastructure by population growth (permanent, semi-permanent and wannabe permanent) just might help focus our various dysfunctional governments on the size of the task.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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