Late last year, the Albanese government announced in its migration strategy its plan to to cut post-study visa stay periods from four to two years. The strategy, which will be implemented later this year, also includes increasing minimum English language requirements to an equivalent of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score of 6.0 for student visas – up from 5.5 – and 6.5 for graduate visas. 

The current “genuine temporary entrant” (GTE) requirement will also be replaced with a “genuine student test” (GST), in addition to the lowered age limit for temporary graduate visa applicants from 50 to 35.

Currently, the GTE test requires written proof that potential students intend to return home after completing their studies, as well as a statement of purpose articulating why the student is capable of undertaking the course. 

While details of the new GST test have not been released, it will be designed to assess genuine intentions to study rather than work in Australia, including meeting relevant visa requirements like English proficiency, academic qualifications, financial documents, and overall authenticity.

While only a year ago, the federal government announced extensions to the graduate work visa offered to international students, this recent move is the latest in a slate of amendments tightening Australia’s immigration policies

In December of last year, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil vouched that the new measures would help “bring [migrant] numbers back under control” and reduce the annual migration intake by about 50%. The federal government affirmed the decision, citing the need to weed out students “whose primary intention is to work rather than study” and to restrict “visa hopping”.

Universities Australia, a representative body of Australia’s universities, previously recommended the implementation of the genuine student test and affirmed their continued support for the Albanese Government’s decision. 

The representative body asserted that the updates would mainly “(protect) students from unscrupulous operators seeking to exploit them for personal gain” and concurrently “preserve the integrity and strength of the education system”. 

Acknowledging the significant impact international graduates have on Australia’s economy, the organisation emphasised “getting the right people with genuine ambitions” to attend university in the country. They continued, “We must continue to attract them for mutual benefit.”

While the changes have been proclaimed to create a fairer and less competitive system for genuine students, it raises questions on who will truly benefit. The issue at hand may not simply be about the education sector at all, but rather a reflection of the bigger migration scene in Australia; of the country’s stance towards immigrants and the government’s attempts to curb it. 

The possibility is not unfounded. Overseas-born immigrants make up close to 30% of the population and of those, student and post-study work visa holders make up 3% of temporary migrants. According to a poll conducted mid-2023, a majority of Australians believed their country’s migrant intake is too high

Granted, the reforms will primarily impact vocational education and training (VET) colleges rather than the higher education sector—given most universities, including the ANU, already require IELTS 6.0 or above for admission—but many international university students still fall through the cracks. 

The lowered age limit for graduate visa applicants from 50 to 35 means genuine mature students above the new age no longer qualify for post graduate employment, even though they make up a significant proportion of postgraduate populations at universities. Stricter English language requirements also means that genuine students whose first language is not English may be at a disadvantage. 

The inconvenience the new changes bring is not lost on higher education international students. But it is current students already in the system who will bear the brunt of the visa cuts.

A third-year postgraduate ANU medical student explains that the incoming changes to post-study work visas means that her plans to stay on in Australia upon graduation may be derailed.

The student tells Woroni, “the tightening of the [post-study] work visa could make it harder for us to obtain a visa to work in Australia after graduation”. She elaborates, “with the increasing difficulty in (obtaining) a work visa, we have to return to our home country or move to a new country.”

These visa changes come in the wake of a post-Covid era, a period which saw the loosening of immigration policies in an attempt to reintroduce international travel. Today, the Albanese government faces an increasing pressure to streamline the broken migration system left behind by its predecessors, especially in the face of a growing housing crisis in which migrants have been scapegoated as a primary cause. 

However, as much as the government stresses upon the benefits its new strategy would bring to international students, the one size fits all policy makes it unconvincing that these measures have genuine intentions. 

In the quest for a manageable international student count, the new changes will indiscriminately exclude even genuine students with the right skill sets, especially mature aged students, which raises the question if Australia is heading towards a closed border policy.

While there will be winners and losers in the latest graduate visa policy changes, it remains to be seen if these measures will truly be mutually beneficial like advertised – if they would promise a fairer system for both international graduates and local Australians, or if they will only result in a win-lose situation, one where the losers are international students.


We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.