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Overseas students: immigration policy changes 1997–2015

International students Skilled migration Federal government Australia


This paper provides a chronology that draws on ministerial press statements to trace changes in Australia’s immigration policy in relation to overseas students between 1997 and June 2015. Immigration policies introduced in this period fundamentally changed the nature of migration to Australia. Policy changes in this period were pivotal in facilitating the rapid growth of overseas student education in Australia by forging links between the temporary overseas student program and permanent skilled migration. Later reforms to both skilled migration and overseas student policy were also central to the decline in overseas student enrolments beginning in 2009–10. The paper begins its analysis in 1997 as this appears to be the point at which the Howard Government commenced making announcements about overseas students as an immigration issue.

The paper begins by briefly analysing the way in which the landscape of immigration policy in relation to overseas students has developed since 1997. This is followed by a summary charting key policy developments between 1997 and June 2015, and concluding observations on the consequences and possible impacts of recent immigration policy changes on overseas student education in Australia. Appendix A contains a detailed chronology of government media releases on immigration policy developments in relation to overseas students and skilled migration. As an aid to reading the paper, Appendix B identifies the visa classes referred to in the text of the paper, and Appendix C provides a glossary of acronyms and terms.

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