Prime Minister, Scott Morrison announces visa fee refund scheme

On the 19th of January 2022, Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison announced a scheme to entice international students and backpackers to return to Australia to help fill critical worker shortages. The scheme is a visa rebate.

The Morrison government’s hopes are for up to 56,000 international students and 24,000 backpackers will utilise the visa fee refund scheme in the coming future. The scheme comes as Australia needs help to fill critical worker shortages and help in re-growing the Australian economy.

The government anticipates the measure will clear the backlog of backpackers as well as entice more to apply

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, called the scheme a “thankyou” for international students for returning to Australia and stated “come on down” to backpackers. The need for healthcare and aged care workers was a huge motivation for Morrison and he stated individuals filling those roles would be “incredibly helpful”. Mr Morrison also stated having backpackers work and holiday in Australia will greatly help the country’s struggling tourism industry.

“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,” – Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia

Following the Omicron variant outbreak in Australia, many different business sectors such as agriculture and hospitality are struggling with staff being forced to isolate regularly.

What does the visa fee rebate scheme involve?

The visa fee rebate scheme came into effect as of Wednesday the 19th of January 2022, international students and backpackers who arrive in Australia will now be able to apply for a rebate amount of $630 for international students and $495 for working holiday makers.

To be eligible for the scheme international students must re-enter Australia within the next 8 weeks and working holiday makers must enter Australia within the next 12 weeks.

The expected cost to the Australian government will be AUD55 million.

The scheme has faced mixed opinions

Australia’s chamber of commerce calls for borders to be relaxed

The Australian chamber of commerce and Industry welcomed the idea of a visa fee rebate, saying “Businesses were confronting the worst labour and skill shortages in more than three decades, and the visa fee rebates would be critical in filling workforce gaps.”

The chamber went on to say that what Australia more desperately needs is border restrictions to be relaxed to welcome international tourists. John Hart, Australian chamber-tourism executive chair said Australia should extend the visa fee rebate to other visas. “Offering fee-free tourist visas will enhance Australia’s competitiveness as a tourist destination… businesses reliant on international travellers are only just holding on with very little government support to keep them going. They are desperate for some good news.” Mr John Hart said.

The induction of international students, skilled migrants, working holiday makers and other visas since the November 2021 announcement of Australia’s plan to re-open, has shown opening the borders poses little additional threat to Australian public health safety.

Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler stated the new visa fee rebate scheme is “To distract from the failures that are resonating, reverberating right through Australia right now”.

Australia’s market share in overseas study

For quite some time University leaders and education lobby groups have been pushing Morrison to act in regard for the need to entice international students to return to Australia, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Competitors such as the UK and Canada were much quicker to allow the return of international students and the University leaders and education lobby groups made many attempts to warn the federal government that Australia would lose their place as a top country for international study.

International student’s protection

Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, stated the combination of late border re-openings, lack of flights and hesitancy due to the Omicron variant outbreak in Australia is hindering international student’s enrolments for semester one.

He went on to say “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,”

The education lobby groups have also voiced their concern chief executive Vicki Thomson stated, “We are starting to see deferrals and cancellations and our universities are receiving a number of enquiries both from new and returning students requesting online study as there are limited flight options available and concerns over our COVID cases,”

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