Present tense: Immigration changes

Just before Christmas, the federal government announced a number of changes to immigration rules, in an attempt to draw the heat from an increasingly spiky immigration debate.

Over half a million arrivals entered Australia in 2023, more than double the historical average. While much of this surge was fuelled by post-pandemic catch-up, political pressure was always likely to force the government’s hand.

A large proportion of arrivals are international students, so many of the government measures have been aimed at that cohort. While there is understandable scepticism of government campaigns to crack down on “dodgy colleges”, early reports suggest that these latest efforts are having a real effect, with even reputable colleges indicating that student visas are being rejected at higher rates than ever before, while some colleges are effectively excluding entire countries to save themselves the hassle.

Late 2023 figures from national peak body English Australia suggest that the heat was already coming out of the post-pandemic student boom, with ELICOS visa grants down 32 per cent in the year to October 2023, and new visa applications down 13 per cent.

Overall numbers remain healthy, of course, with enrolments up by over 128 per cent in 2023, but the government needs to be careful about over-correcting a downward trend that was already apparent. There are indications that other markets like the US are capitalising on student crackdowns in Australia and other countries.

Legal changes

The federal government continues to be busy in the industrial relations sphere, with further changes to the Fair Work Act passing the parliament in February. Several of these changes will be of intertest to workers in the post-secondary sector, including changes to the definition of “casual” work, and easier pathways for casual workers to convert to fixed-term and permanent employment.

Another important change is improved rights for workplace delegates (see p1). A workplace delegate (or rep) is someone elected by their colleagues (or otherwise appointed in accordance with union rules) in a particular workplace.

A delegate has a legal right to represent members’ industrial interests (including in disputes), have reasonable communication with members and prospective members in relation to their industrial interests, and access to the workplace and facilities.

Delegates/reps also have a legal right to paid time during normal working hours for union training, though this doesn’t apply for “small” businesses, like many smaller ELICOS colleges. To see how these and other legislative changes might work in your workplace, join your union today!

Summer schools

In the northern hemisphere summer, many countries run English language summer schools, and these can be a great way to finance some overseas travel, perhaps as a stepping stone to working overseas for the next academic year. The United Kingdom has numerous such schools, and the demand is low enough that it can usually be simple enough to secure a position, often with accommodation and meals thrown in.

I have happy memories of working at similar schools when I was a teacher, working in London, Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton and Reading. Now is the time to be applying for such jobs, and these are usually offered in all the standard jobseeking websites. Teachers can also approach the schools directly, using the list of schools on the English UK (the British equivalent to English Australia) website.

Kendall Warren