International students are critical to Australia’s post-pandemic immigration policies in order to provide a stable supply of skilled and seasonal labor. After a boom in the mid-2000s, the strict borders established to keep Covid-19 away, have dropped the migrant labor force it relies on into “a huge fissure” in 2020.
“Over the last 10 years or so, we’ve been adding 2,00,000 to 2,50,000 migrants per year. So we go [from this] to minus 94,000 in the 2021 financial year,” said renowned demographer and columnist Bernard Salt. “So you can see the swing that’s taking place…it’s like falling into a great crevasse.”
At the Australian International Education Conference 2021, Salt spoke in the plenary session “The skills shortage: how international education can lead Australia’s comeback.” In 2020, Australia had 7.7 million migrants, the majority of whom came from the United Kingdom, India, China, New Zealand, the Philippines, Vietnam, South Africa, Italy, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.
In 2020, Australia will have 7.7 million migrants, the bulk of whom will be from the United Kingdom, India, China, New Zealand, the Philippines, Vietnam, South Africa, Italy, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and South Korea.
“That’s approximately 30% – the big immigrant nation [of the United States] isn’t anything like 30% — it’s 15%.” “Even if you add five points for illegals, it’s still 20%,” Salt argues. “We’re a lone wolf. We are a remarkably cosmopolitan nation, accustomed to significant numbers of people migrating to Australia and contributing to our way of life.”
Australia’s baby boomers will be leaving the workforce in the 2020s and for the next 30 years, a trend that began in 2011. “We kind of already knew that, but if in 2020-21, you stop overseas immigration and students coming into Australia, you would exacerbate the baby bust, which is where we are at the moment,” said Salt.
He further added, “we’re always going to have to invest in skilling Australia — that’s why we lifted the levels of immigration. That’s why we’ve supported international students to offset the impact of the baby bust. All the pandemic has done has been to accentuate that so we lift that, drive it, and recover from it.”
According to Salt, Australia’s post-pandemic immigration recovery will begin in 2022. Similar large drops in the number of overseas students have been seen in the past, for example, when the Australian dollar was at a high value. “My point here is that, while it was terrible at the time, there is an underlying market for what Australia has to offer, and we do recover from it, which is positive,” Salt said.
Thousands of international students who enrolled at Australian universities almost two years ago have are yet to arrive. Their education and mental health suffer as they wait for approval, as do the revenues of a multibillion-dollar education sector.