Visa rebate to lure back 175,000 international students and holidaymakers

Visa rebate to lure back 175,000 international students and holidaymakers


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International students and working holidaymakers will be given a rebate on their visa fees from Wednesday in a bid by the federal government to lure them back to Australia to help revive the economy and plug critical worker shortages.

The announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday will target around 150,000 students and 23,500 backpackers, with the rebates – worth $630 for students and $495 for working holidaymakers – to begin immediately. For those on student visas, the rebate scheme will run for eight weeks, while backpackers will be able to access the rebate for 12 weeks.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a visa rebate scheme to entice international students and backpackers back to Australia to help fill critical worker shortages.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Mr Morrison pitched the scheme as a “thank you” to students for coming back and “continuing to choose Australia”, and to have them fill worker shortages as COVID-19 isolation requirements have crippled industries and businesses, and led to supply chain issues.

“But we also want them to come here and be able to fill some of these critical workforce shortages, particularly those who are working and being trained in healthcare, aged care, those types of sectors, that will be incredibly helpful,” Mr Morrison said.

University leaders and education lobby groups have previously been critical of the federal government’s stance towards international students throughout the pandemic, warning Australia would lose market share in the lucrative sector to other countries such as the UK and Canada, which moved more quickly to allow their return.

Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, said the beleaguered sector was happy with any incentives it could get after a tough two years, but the combination of later border openings, lack of flights and Omicron hesitancy were hampering enrolments for semester one.

“Questions are also being asked by students as to whether this change of policy is just motivated by the need to backfill Australia’s labour force rather than genuine support for student welfare,” Mr Honeywood said.

Certain classes of visa holders, including overseas students, skilled workers, and working holidaymakers, have been permitted to enter Australia without an exemption since December, providing they are fully vaccinated. At the urging of employer groups, the federal government has already relaxed rules around the working requirements of student visa holders so that they can work more than 20 hours per week.

Supermarkets are among the businesses grappling with supply chain issues with workforce shortages ranging from 20 to 50 per cent due to COVID-19 infections, prompting a relaxation last week in the isolation requirements for workers in critical industries who are close household contacts of a COVID-19 case.

Mr Morrison said Tourism Australia would be given $3 million to support a marketing campaign aimed at enticing backpackers to the country, which he said had been slower to return than international students.

“My message to them is: come on down,” Mr Morrison said. “We want you to come to Australia and enjoy a holiday here in Australia, move all the way around the country, and the same time join our workforce and help us in our agricultural sector, in our hospitality sector, and so many of the other parts of the economy that rely on that labour,” Mr Morrison said.

“If they turn up within the next 12 weeks, they will get their visa application fee rebated by the Department of Home Affairs. ”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the rebate scheme was expected to cost $55 million and described it as putting out a “welcome mat” to 175,000 students and working holidaymakers.

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