Page 3871 - Week 10 - Thursday, 20 September 2018

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It needs to be pointed out that these students understand how migration works and they certainly understand that there are no guarantees in the system. Their primary concern is specifically that they were lured into moving to Canberra even after the government understood that the demand for ACT-nominated visas was surging.

I cannot say for sure what the government knew when, but what we know from public reporting appears troubling. Migration lawyer Nicholas Houston told SBS that he met with ACT government officials in November last year and warned them that thousands of students were already moving to Canberra in the hope of securing territory nomination. I quote him:

But they—

the government—

kept advertising the program and hundreds and hundreds more kept coming … If they had pulled the plug on the program back then, all these students wouldn’t have been in the situation that they are now.

A ministerial brief sent to the Chief Minister in April and released under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that Mr Barr had been informed that the scheme was oversubscribed. Nevertheless, the government agency responsible for the program still told migration agents on 13 June that there would be no changes to the application and assessment process introduced on 1 July last year. Thirteen days later the scheme was abruptly closed to most would-be applicants.

The nearly 300 extra intending migrants who had filed their applications by this date have been grandfathered into this year’s visa allotment. This is a good and decent thing, but this still leaves a large group of international students who find themselves in limbo. The government’s discussion paper acknowledges the impact that this mess has had on these students, and the government has promised a review that will better manage both expectations and demand in the future.

None of this, however, will help the students caught in the middle. As I mentioned before, these students made a conscious and what they thought was informed choice to move to Canberra to study. Many of those I have spoken with even gave up good jobs elsewhere to do so. They know that visas are capped by the Department of Home Affairs. They know that the success of an application for nomination is not guaranteed.

What they do not understand is why the ACT government kept encouraging them to come when the data showed that the 190 visa scheme was already being overwhelmed. Why, when the Chief Minister knew that applications had surged well ahead of places, did this government continue to tell migration agents that there would be no changes to the application and assessment processes?

If these students had been given the correct information they would have been able to make genuinely informed choices. They may well have chosen to invest thousands of dollars into studying elsewhere. They may have held onto good, paying jobs instead.

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