The cost of calling Australia home

457 visa changes through the eyes of a USYD student

Sophie (Photo: Zhaniya Orazymbetova)
"That day I saw the news about visa changes on Wechat, I was shocked. I quickly checked the Australian news outlets, they all spoke about the government’s decision. It was true. It was a big surprise for me." Sophie

To be a good journalist, one has to be curious they say. Though it is not curiosity that brought Sophie to study media in Australia. The desire to be an Australian citizen was her motive. On February 22, 2016 the decision to leave her family behind in China for better opportunities was made.

"When I firstly came here and saw how it’s all different from Xi’an, the small historical city in the North of China: clean air, so you don’t have to wear the mask all day for months, open people, culture-I realized this is where I want to live. My health, both physical and mental, is important for me." Sophie

China is the world’s biggest polluter, and after the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement , it is also the largest investor in renewables. For the majority of its northern territory, where Sophie’s home city is located, it became normal to live under the heavy smog for months.

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Sophie (Photo: Zhaniya Orazymbetova)

Sitting on the grass near Quadrangle, the oldest and most “Instagrammable” building at the university, Sophie is sharing her favourite memories in Down Under. Her voice relaxes as she speaks about people she met on her trips to Newcastle and Melbourne, then gets louder and bursts into a laugh, as she recalls her evenings with friends from all over the world, who came here to find a home, like she did. When she speaks about China and the reasons she doesn’t want to live there, the tone of her voice strains, because she wants to make clear: “I love my country” It is about the bigger opportunities and comfort life in Australia can offer for young people like Sophie.

"You can’t even imagine what it means to live under a constant pressure: from society, from parents, from friends. “You are already 24 and still studying” they say. There is too much competition in China, with every youngster having a degree from prestigious universities, because reputation is highly important for Chinese. I wanted to escape that, my country is not the place where I can improve myself as a person." Sophie

It’s been several months since the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the abolishment of the 457 visa, which is going to be replaced by the new types of temporary visas. One of the major reasons is the guarantee Australian values will be “preserved”, as it is commonly believed foreign workers not only “steal local jobs,” but also fail to assimilate into the Australian culture.

"I can understand why the government decided to change the policy, they want to make it strict and ensure every migrant does have a certain level of English proficiency, and able to assimilate. The government knows better, I cannot oppose it." Sophie

But not everyone shares Sophie’s view. Some ministers and experts think longer waiting periods to achieve citizenship, two years work experience and high-level English requirements – make sense. Chris F Wright, USYD Professor and an expert in employment relations, believes the changes will negatively affect the education market. “The government should put the honest responsibility on employers, who are the most responsible actors in this area, rather than blaming migrants for the existing challenges,” says Professor Wright.

Interview with Professor Wright

According to a survey held among 500 international students all around Australia, the change is already hurting – with Iscah Migration managing director, Steven O’Neil stating: “this is going to cost Australian billions of foreign income and tens of thousands of jobs in the industry.”

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Survey Info-graphic (Source: Iscah Migration)

Info-graphic by: Zhaniya Orazymbetova

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98% of respondents indicated their disappointment with the visa changes, and 88% no longer think Australia is a worthy destination. In March 2017 the number of international students in Australia was 480,092. This number is expected to drop in the following months, especially among students from China, who constitute the largest segment.

Taking into account Australia’s ageing population, experts warn of possible negative consequences, as the society will look different to what it does today. According to the statistics, the proportion of the population over 65 years will almost double to around 25 per cent over the next 40 years.

Though migration will not stop a population ageing, maintaining net overseas migration is certainly beneficial.

Unlike these 68% Canada inclined students, Sophie is not taking the easiest path.

"I not even considering other options, I want to stay in Australia. My plan for now is to go Tasmania for another master’s degree and internship. I know my dream will cost more money and time than I’ve planned, but I am going to take that trade." Sophie

Sometimes it’s not the colour of one’s passport that determines whether you can be a true Aussie. The willingness to become a part of the society, preparedness to work hard and challenge yourself to successfully integrate into the community should be the major criteria.

Sophie now has two weeks towards the completion of her Master’s degree, but she has already started the application process for the Tasmanian University.

She is not giving up on her goal to become an Australian citizen, as she loves this country and is already on her way to ticking off three things: to surf, to run, and to wear sunnies and thongs all the time, on her “being an Aussie list” – though not promising to love Vegemite.

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