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Clampdown on visas has colleges nervous -

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The federal government has sent shockwaves through the international education industry after
flagging its intentions to alter the skilled visa shortage list. The list once favoured
hairdressers, chefs and accountants. There are currently thousands of international students
studying such courses in colleges around the country with the aim to receive permanent residency.
Now there are predictions that many of the colleges will collapse.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN: The government announcement this week that it will revamp Australia's skilled
migration program with an accent on migrants with a higher skills base has prompted forecasts that
Australia's flourishing international education sector will suffer.

The decision to drop skills like cooking and hairdressing from the skills shortage list will hit
colleges that specialise in these areas, because they'll no longer offer a pathway to permanent
residency.

Students coming to Australia for these sorts of courses had increased from fewer than 5,000 to more
than 40,000 in just four years up to 2008, many with a clear expectation of being able to stay
indefinitely.

Some in the industry warn that many colleges will collapse as a result, and that good operators
could go under along with shonky managers.

Heather Ewart reports.

(funky instrumental music)

HEATHER EWART: Over the past decade, it's become a $16 billion industry and the pathway for
international students to live in Australia permanently.

ABC REPORTER (2006 REPORT): Will studying hairdressing help you to get permanent residency?

HAIRDRESSING STUDENT: Yeah, I think so because it's so hard work so nobody wants that! (laughs)

ACCOUNTANCY STUDENT: Once you are getting through from accounting, you're eligible to apply for
permanent residency, yeah.

HEATHER EWART: That's all about to change, with the Federal Government flagging its intentions this
week to alter our skilled shortage list that once favoured hairdressers, chefs and accountants, to
name a few.

SENATOR CHRIS EVANS, IMMIGRATION & CITIZENSHIP MINISTER: When we came into government, we were
taking hairdressers from overseas in front of doctors and nurses. It didn't make any sense.

If you get a student visa to Australia, it's a visa to study; it's not a visa to stay permanently.

VASAN SRINIVASAN, FED. INDIAN ASSOCIATIONS OF VICTORIA: This should have done some time ago. I am
glad at least they started looking at it now.

ANDREW SMITH, AUST COUNCIL FOR PRIVATE EDUC. & TRAINING (ACPET): It's very uncertain as to what
sorts of occupations will be eligible for immigration purposes and which won't.

And that makes it very hard for businesses to plan and for students to plan.

ROHAN CRESP, IASCEND COLLEGE: What we have now is a rush by the Federal and State governments to
kick every college possible.

PETER VLAHOS, MIGRATION LAWYER: These colleges that spring up like 7-11s around the place will
definitely have pressure and hopefully they'll close because they give our country a bad reputation
overseas in the education sector.

HEATHER EWART: The announcement has sent shockwaves through the international education industry,
already dealing with bad publicity surrounding shonky operators and colleges going bust.

Scores of them around the country have focussed specifically on courses that would enable students
to get permanent residency. Now there are forecasts many will collapse.

PETER VLAHOS: Hopefully that would be the effect. Sadly, a lot of honest people will be caught up
in this.

But the Government had to act. And this is a way of acting and I think it is an appropriate
decision, albeit there will be consequences for some.

ANDREW SMITH: I think there is a very real risk that if colleges have not got a sustainable
business model, if they're too narrowly focussed, that they may well find their viability at risk.

ROHAN CRESP: I can imagine around 100 dubious colleges will move out of this area because they're
not really fair dinkum about education.

HEATHER EWART: The Government won't release details of its new skilled migration categories until
April but has signalled it will include nurses, GPs, mechanical engineers and teachers, not cooks
and hairdressers.

There's growing speculation within the international education sector that this is also a backdoor
way for the Government to crack down on rogue operators and rorting within the industry that's come
under increasing scrutiny in the past 12 months.

ROHAN CRESP: What's gone wrong is, I believe, they allowed a range of colleges to be registered by
people that had no background in education, no commitment to education and were literally people
smugglers with classrooms rather than boats.

PETER VLAHOS: I think the real issues are unscrupulous operators taking advantage of students, bad
migration agents, bad colleges.

JOHN SUTTON, NATIONAL SECRETARY, CFMEU: I think the international education lobby has had a hell of
a lot of power. I think they've been, uh...really using their clout to say that this was a major
industry, it should be untouched, Government should put cotton wool around it.

I think governments were slow to realise that there was a lot of a lot of rorts going on in that
area.

HEATHER EWART: Indeed, three years ago, the 7:30 Report revealed what appeared to be a major scam
involving and Indian businessman, Ramanathan Kumar, allegedly offering two Sri Lankan students a
deal in a Melbourne city square.

If they paid him $13,500 each, he could build up the number of points required by the Department of
Immigration for them to be eligible for permanent residency. They'd get false paperwork to prove
work experience.

The students didn't want to be identified in an interview, but after their meeting outlined the
deal to us.

STUDENT 1: Kumar guaranteed us a letter saying that we've worked in a particular company for six
months and this letter will-will add five points towards your permanent residency.

HEATHER EWART: And would you really be working for that company or not?

STUDENT 1: No, you wouldn't even step anywhere near the company.

HEATHER EWART: After our story went to air, the Immigration Department referred the matter to
Federal Police. Three years on, a spokesman has told us the department is not at liberty to give us
the outcome but, we understand, no action was ever taken against the businessman.

Whether changes to skilled migration categories would stop rorting in this area is anyone's guess.

PETER VLAHOS: I think firmer laws would stop rorting. I think a better regulation overseas of
education and migration agents through our various consular and diplomatic legations should, um,
regulate the industry.

It's offshore that the problem starts.

VASAN SRINIVASAN: The agents overseas are the one providing them wrong information. The majority of
the agents are telling the students that when you go to Australia you don't need to worry about
your living.

(angry mob shouting)

HEATHER EWART: Tensions are already running high in this industry, since Indian students took to
the streets in Melbourne last year to protest at alleged racist attacks. Not only has this created
diplomatic problems with India, but enrolments by Indian students have plummeted.

VASAN SRINIVASAN: It started happening in the last few months

I was told by a number of Indian agents in India during my trip to India recently that
approximately 60 to 65 percentage drops in student number coming to Australia.

ANDREW SMITH: And that's very significant. It has an impact on people's forward projections and
their business viability.

COOKING TEACHER: You need one egg yolk in each bowl, guys.

HEATHER EWART: The skilled migration rule changes will add to that pressure.

At this college in Melbourne's CBD, most of the international students studying cooking are Indian.

DHARMINDER SINGH, STUDENT: Everyone is, you know, worried about the future, about the living here.
They have so many dreams here. They are working somewhere and... You know, it's really hard.

HEATHER EWART: When word spreads in India that a cooking course is not going to lead to permanent
residency in Australia, there's bound to be a further decline in enrolments.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Heather Ewart with that report from Melbourne.