Addressing hundreds of thousands of migrants, temporary visa holders, and international students stuck outside Australia, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Thursday said: “We want them back as soon as possible.”
After nearly a year of COVID-19 prompted border restrictions, the newly appointed Immigration Minister Alex Hawke today signalled that the government is planning to allow temporary migrants, including international students and visitors, back into the country as soon as possible.
- We want migrants and visitors back ASAP says Immigration Minister Alex Hawke
- Mr Hawke says the government is preparing to open international borders
- Australia records a 48 per cent dip in offshore student visa applications from India
In an interview with SBS News, Mr Hawke said the government is preparing to open international borders.
“We’ve learnt one thing out of COVID, and that is we absolutely miss the visitors to our economy and temporary visa holders. We want them back as soon as possible,” the immigration minister said.
“That's why the government is rolling out our vaccination program and preparing for the opening of our international borders, so we can have those important visits from tourists that spend so much money in our country - but also the international student sector, one of our largest export sectors, they value-add so inherently to the Australian economy - we want to get them back.”
The minister’s statement comes as the latest data from the Department of Home Affairs reveals that offshore international student visa applications have plunged, registering a 65% dip in the second half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
The biggest tumble has been witnessed in visa applications lodged from India - the second-largest source of students to Australia, second only to China.
'Many migrants are shifting their immigration dream to Canada'
Divya Sharma who remains stuck in the northern Indian state of Punjab with her husband and their one-year-old child said the Australian government has issued similar statements in the past year, but it ramps up restrictions every time there is a new strain or infection threat.
“We came here for my husband’s eye surgery in March 2020 and have been stuck here ever since, with no hope to return and no financial means to survive. We have no jobs, my professional year has been on hold, my son’s vaccination is due -in short, our life has been temporarily suspended,” said the 28-year-old whose post-study work visa is due to expire in November.
“The uncertainty around travel is forcing many migrants stuck offshore to consider moving to other countries like Canada, where the government has been far more considerate towards visa holders," she told SBS Punjabi.
In a previous interview with SBS Punjabi, Canberra-based migration lawyer Ben Watt had said that there is a certain shift in the narrative among Australia’s skilled workers stuck offshore, many of whom are now shopping around for a first-world country.
“There is definitely a narrative that is happening with this international pool of talent. They are shopping around, and the pandemic has really brought home to people that they really want to live in a country where they are going to have the ability to eventually get residency, and the country’s got the ability to police its borders and keep COVID down,” he said.
Mr Hawke, however, said he believes migrants would return to Australia in droves once they reopened the country’s borders.
I think we’re in a good place - we have a great reputation internationally … as soon as we can open those borders, we know we're going to have huge demand to access Australia
The Immigration Minister reaffirmed that migration would be key to lifting Australia's economy out of the red.
Calling it a “backflip”, Abul Rizvi, the former deputy secretary of the Department of Immigration, said he is finding it hard to comprehend that “If visitors and temporary entrants are so important, why had the Prime Minister told visitors and temporary entrants to go home at the start of the pandemic.”
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