The Australian government says it's not a case of cutting the number of migrants, but of making sure they meet the country's labour needs. Significantly, hairdressers and cooks are no longer among the jobs that can lead to permanent residency. There are mixed feelings about the move among those in the industries, while education providers say they have already seen the numbers of people applying to related courses plummet.
Presenter: Helene Hofman
Jay, Melbourne-based hairdresser from Korea; Andrew Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Council for Private Education and Training; Ian Wilson, Chief Executive Officer, Hostec International; Mirella Heuperman, Operations Manager, Biba Academy
HAIRDRESSER: [sfx salon noise] My name is Jay. I've been here for three years. I came here to be a hairdresser. I think there are some people that just came to get PR but my type of person, they're really wanting to be hairdressers here.
HOFMAN: In 2007-2008 the Australian government granted 41,000 general skilled visas. Of those, over 5,000 went to commercial cooks and hairdressers, like Jay from Korea.
But the list of skilled occupations that qualify for entry has been culled from 400 jobs to just 180. Radiologists, dentists, chemical engineers, as well as carpenters and lock smiths made the cut - hairdressers, commercial cooks and 218 other professions didn't. And the most immediate casualty appears to have been the education sector.
WILSON: We've been servicing the international students here in Australia for two years. In our second year we had 700 students and for the next intake, we're really looking at a top of 350 going through our commercial cookery program.
HOFMAN: That's Ian Wilson, the Chief Executive Officer of the hospitality training institution, Hostec International. Hostec has been forced to close two of its training sites as a result in the fall-off in demand.
And it's not the only one - once the new Skills Occupations List was released, the number of international students applying to do hairdressing and commercial cookery classes plummeted. Across Australia, educational providers had to cut staff numbers, while some institutions who depended almost entirely on international students have filed for bankruptcy and closed.
Andrew Smith the Chief Executive Officer, Australian Council for Private Education and Training says the move could have a devastating impact on the education sector.
SMITH: There's no doubt that students choices are driven by a range of different things, and the possibility of permanent residency is one of them and a number of students had that in mind.
HOFMAN: And are you seeing the implications of that on the education providers already?
SMITH: We are. We've seen that a number of our private providers have been impacted. We've seen people having to lay off staff and question their viability. Our estimation of the impact is that over the next 18 months Australia will lose something AUS$3.8 billion and about 33,000 Australians could lose their jobs if this situation continues.
HOFMAN: However, some industry providers have welcomed the move. The new changes favour employer-sponsored migration, making it harder for international students to migrate.
Many like Mirella Heuperman, operations manager with the Biba Academy hairdressing school in Melbourne say that although there is a real shortage of skilled, competent labour in both hairdressing and commercial cookery, the skilled migration program had little or no effect on the situation. She admits the new plan is far from perfect, but describes it as a definite improvement.
HEUPERMAN: There are, I know, a lot of people who do come here to develop the skills but also get that permanent residency. There are a lot of school that do promise then, 'Ah, you know, we can get you that permanent residency if you come to us.' For the economy it's probably not a good move, but for the industry it's going to be an excellent move because a lot of overseas students are coming here, they're getting that qualification, they're getting their permanent residency and they're not actually following through with the hairdressing.