Pushing for a significant increase in immigration arrivals equates to more competition in Western Australia’s labour market. The McGowan government plans to increase overseas student enrolments in Western Australia from 52,000 in 2018 to 88,000 by 2022.[1] This is a substantial increase equal to 36,000 new overseas enrolments over a short period. Overseas students have significant working rights therefore this has the potential to worsen the predicament of the 85,000 Western Australians out of work at June 2019 with a high unemployment rate of 5.9% (see Figure 1 below). And surprisingly the McGowan government is using $4.5 million of taxpayer’s money in a marketing campaign aimed at bringing in more overseas students/temporary workers to Western Australia. [2]

Overseas students arrivals has the potential to move into a higher figure than the 88,000 enrolments touted by the McGowan government. Student visas are uncapped and the main goal of overseas students studying in Australia is to gain a permanent visa and employment. [3] Will this not squeeze the West Australian labour market even more than the current situation? The rise in overseas students/workers in Western Australia has been considerable, increasing from 25,560 in 2003 to 40,703 in 2018, a substantial increase of 59.24% (see Figure 2 below).

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(Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2019.[4])

According to the Australian government’s own advisory agency The Productivity Commission Migration Intake Report – the report indicates that the huge rise in overseas students may be impacting on Australia youth employment. And West Australia’s youth unemployment rate has been trending upwards for the past decade it is currently 11.2%.

There are two main types of overseas students visas. The subclass 500 visas allow overseas students employment (in any sector they choose) up to 20 hours per/week during study and unlimited hours during study break. This visa has a time frame of 5 years.

The subclass student 485 visas have no such restrictions. This visa holder can work as many hours as they prefer.  The 485 visa has a very generous criteria in that it allows overseas students to work in Australia in any occupation they like (and not solely in a position where they gained the skills and knowledge in an Australian university). This has the effect of making little use (from an economic perspective) of the specialised skills and knowledge overseas students obtained in an Australian university. Will this not have a greater impact on the existing West Australia workforce if 485 visa holders can apply for any type of job they choose even if that job could be filled by West Australian citizens currently out of work?  The time frames for the 485 visa of which there are two streams range from minimum 18 months to maximum 4 years.

[visualizer id=”4312″]

(Source: Australian Government Department of Education and Training, 2019.[5])



[1] Government of Western Australia, ‘Media Statements – State Budget Boost to Secure More International Students to Perth’, 2019 <> [accessed 2 June 2019].

[2] Government of Western Australia.

[3] Australian Government Department of Education and Training, The Value of International Education to Australia, 2015 <> [accessed 13 November 2018].

[4] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘6202.0 – Labour Force, Australia, Jun 2019’, 2019 <> [accessed 20 July 2019].

[5] Australian Government Department of Education and Training, ‘International Student Data’, 2019 <> [accessed 16 July 2019].

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