New Graduate Occupation List in Australia is likely to increase WA university applications

“”The correlation between international student enrolments and tourism numbers with the eligibility pathways for permanent residence is clear as day”

The Western Australian labor government has quickly recognised the mistake it made in 2017 when it de facto closed its immigration program to skilled migrants immediately after winning the 2017 election. 

In the ensuing months, international student enrolments at WA universities dropped significantly – 7% or 1403 enrolments in the 2018 financial year alone, against a backdrop of 11% growth nationally. That represents an 18% negative swing in WA against the national average. In simple terms, a disaster for the Western Australian education and tourism industries.

The drop is directly attributed to the WA Government closing off permanent migration pathways for WA international students. Without a pathway for regional employers sponsored or state-sponsored visas, international students were quick to choose better options – in South Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania – who all continue to offer special concessions for state sponsorship and continued endorsement of the regional employer-sponsored program. South Australia enjoyed 7% growth, while Tasmania grew international student enrolments by a whopping 23% in the same period. It is no surprise that Tasmania threw open its skilled migration pathways for international students in this period.

And it’s not just the WA international student industry that has suffered. Tourism numbers are down as much as much as 6.1% in the March 2017 – March 2018 period, while Tasmania experienced 43.8% growth in the same period (SA had 4.3% growth).

The correlation between international student enrolments and tourism numbers with the eligibility pathways for permanent residence is clear as day.

So, when WA Premier Mark McGowan announced a new occupation list for the “best and brightest” international graduates in WA, it was a welcome relief for education institutions and tourism operators alike. 

“While the graduate list is a step in the right direction, far more needs to be done”

“Attracting the best and brightest of international university students represents a major step in our commitment to increasing WA’s share of the international education market,” Premier Mark McGowan said.

Nevertheless, it is important to consider just how effective the graduate pathway will be in light of other programs around the country. The WA graduate stream requires applicants to hold a bachelor or PhD or Masters degree. But in South Australia and Tasmania, graduates of VET courses at Certificate III, IV and Diploma level are able to access graduate concessions for state sponsorship.

The WA requirements mandate a minimum of two years of full-time study in WA, while SA and Tasmania only require one year of study.

WA requires specific work experience for some occupations, while Tasmania requires no work experience at all, and SA waives its usual work experience requirements (they generally require three months work experience for international graduates as opposed to the usual 12-month requirement in any related skilled occupation).

WA requires ‘Proficient English’ for all applicants, while SA has different English requirements depending on the occupation, and for many, Competent English is sufficient and Tasmania only require Competent English per Immigration requirements.

In WA, only PhD graduates can access all occupations on the list, while in SA and Tasmania, all graduates regardless of the level of study can access all occupations.

If Western Australia was losing out in the competition for international students before, it is unlikely this measure will have a meaningful impact on the loss of market share to eastern states who are more aggressively pursuing international student numbers. While the graduate list is a step in the right direction, far more needs to be done to restore WA’s reputation amongst international students (and the tourism activity they bring).

About the author: Constantine Paxinos is a Registered Migration Agent and Chartered Accountant. He is a director of PAX Migration Australia, an award-winning immigration agency based in Adelaide, South Australia.