Australia’s Education Mirage - Australian Fabians
23 February, 2024

Australia’s Education Mirage: The story of student immigration’s dual toll by Lavanya Gautam & Anurag Mittal






Imagine stepping onto a sun-kissed campus, where kangaroos occasionally hop by as you rush to your next lecture. Envision lively discussions with classmates from every corner of the globe, against a backdrop of stunning landscapes that range from lush rainforests to bustling city skylines. This is the captivating world of student immigrants in Australia — a fusion of academic pursuit and life-changing adventure that beckons thousands each year. Beyond the glossy brochures and picturesque postcards, however, lies a story that intertwines dreams with challenges and aspirations with adaptability. Even the glistening campuses and vibrant cultural mosaic are undoubtedly alluring, but they cast shadows that stretch far beyond the picturesque landscapes. For every success story, there’s a cautionary tale of unsuspecting students falling victim to immigration scams, unscrupulous agents, and fraudulent institutions. As aspirations soar, nefarious individuals capitalize on the vulnerability of hopeful minds, preying on their eagerness to study abroad. 

The influx of international students contributes significantly to Australia’s economy, but the prioritization of financial gains has sometimes led to lowered educational standards and a focus on quantity over quality. This can leave students in a quagmire of subpar education, thwarting their dreams and putting their futures at risk. As we delve into the underbelly of student immigration in Australia, it becomes evident that this landscape is not just painted with the rosy hues of opportunity but also daubed with shades of deception and vulnerability. Our journey through these dual narratives will expose the complexities of pursuing education abroad, serving as both a cautionary tale and a call for greater awareness and advocacy.

Students hailing from countries like India and China, which collectively account for over 40% of international student immigration in 2022, are increasingly finding themselves drawn to the allure of Australia. The significant influx of students to Australia, is largely attributed to the formidable challenges posed by competitive exams like China’s Gaokao and India’s JEE, NEET, CUET, and CAT. These exams are not only grueling tests of academic prowess but also gatekeepers to prestigious institutions. Even after going through this rigorous process, there are limited seats in these domestic universities and on top of that these universities often fall far short of the global top 150 ranking. Fueled by intense societal pressure, relentless competition, and a scarcity of esteemed educational organizations, a growing number of Indian and Chinese students are opting to pursue mainstream degrees like medical sciences, engineering and management courses in Australia, seeking an escape from the confines of these demanding systems. The predicament of pursuing education in innovative domains such as biotechnology, public policy, agriculture science, international relations etc. becomes daunting in their native lands. Universities there seldom offer these cutting-edge programs, and when they do, they often lack the necessary resources and facilities to foster skill development. Moreover, the job markets in these countries prove intricate, providing limited opportunities across diverse academic pursuits. Furthermore, in both China and India, a paradoxical scenario has emerged where despite completing degrees and acquiring skills in their home countries, many Chinese and Indian students find themselves struggling to secure desirable job opportunities due to the saturation of the job market, intense competition, and an evolving economic landscape. In India the unemployment remains over 7.0 percent under which youth employment is around 3.6 per cent at the primary level, 8.0 percent at the graduate level and 9.3 per cent at post-grad. In China the current youth unemployment rate is 19.9 percent which is astoundingly high. These rates of unemployment imply that even after acquiring top-notch degrees, individuals tend to be unemployed. 

Even though both these countries boast a vast pool of skilled graduates but lack of job opportunities which commensurate with their qualifications from prestigious universities remains a pressing issue. Moreover, the one child policy, once implemented to control population growth, has inadvertently shaped a generation’s aspirations and the pursuit of better opportunities beyond China’s borders. The singular child allowed by the one-child policy has led to heightened expectations from parents who invest heavily in order for their children to excel academically and secure high-paying jobs. Moreover, the quest for societal clout plays a significant role. In a culture that highly values prestige and success, studying abroad, particularly in countries with reputable education systems, enhances one’s societal standing. The experience of studying overseas not only symbolizes personal achievement but also elevates the student’s family within their community. This pursuit of prestige further incentivizes Chinese students to seek educational and career opportunities beyond China’s borders. This dilemma has fueled a significant migration of talent to Australia in search of better employment prospects and a chance to leverage their education and skills effectively.

In this context, Australia emerges as a beacon of promise, offering a holistic pathway to a brighter future. Its prestigious universities, diverse society, and exceptional working conditions together form an irresistible package, compelling students to transcend geographical boundaries in pursuit of a more enriched and fulfilling life.

As we discussed the major reasons for students to immigrate to Australia was often rooted in genuine aspirations for better education, improved career prospects, and the opportunity to provide for their families back home. However, this pursuit of a brighter future can inadvertently render them vulnerable to scams, fraudsters, and crimes in their new host country. The following section will expand on the dark side of student immigration.

Amid the allure of studying in Australia, student immigrants often fall victim to fake visa agents. Exploiting newcomers’ vulnerability, these agents promise easy visas and seamless transitions. However, their deceitful practices lead to financial losses, visa complications, and shattered dreams. Such scams jeopardize students’ academic plans, legal status, and emotional well-being. Pre-pandemic data showed the Department of Home Affairs received an average of around 500 visa scam reports per year.

“Gurpreet Singh who came to Australia from Punjab, India for better living got tangled into extension of work rights and ended up losing $25000 which was duped by a fake visa assistant agent in Brisbane”

Addressing this issue demands collaborative efforts from educational institutions, regulatory bodies, and law enforcement. Promoting awareness, offering clear visa application information, and cracking down on fraudulent agents are crucial steps to safeguarding student aspirations and ensuring a legitimate path to education in Australia.

For student immigrants seeking to balance their studies with financial stability, the unfortunate reality of wage theft has cast a shadow on their aspirations. Many are employed in part-time jobs, often in low-wage sectors, making them vulnerable to exploitative practices. Unscrupulous employers may underpay, withhold wages, or manipulate working hours, leaving students with diminished earnings that fail to meet even basic living expenses. The fear of losing employment or jeopardizing their visa status can keep students silent about such injustices.

“Pranay a part-time worker at the popular convenience store chain of seven-eleven was a victim of wage theft and was paid pennies on dollars, way below the minimum legal wage and was often threatened by the store manager to get deported if he spoke against him”

Addressing wage theft necessitates robust legal protections, accessible avenues for reporting, and increased awareness campaigns. By ensuring fair treatment, Australia can uphold its reputation as a welcoming destination for student immigrants and champion their rights in pursuit of a better future. Amid the pursuit of education, some student immigrants and visa holders find themselves drawn into criminal activities due to financial pressures and isolation. Balancing academic pursuits with the high costs of living, individuals can become vulnerable to criminal networks offering quick income through fraud, identity theft, or even drug trafficking. The allure of financial gain may overshadow potential consequences, endangering legal status and personal well-being. Additionally, the isolation experienced by some newcomers intensifies susceptibility to manipulation.

“Australia’s student immigration policy has opened a gate for criminals to operate across borders. Over the years Australian Police have caught and seized Chinese human traffickers and sex rackets. Moreover, it was found that student visas were being used to traffic people across borders."

Addressing this issue requires comprehensive efforts, including improved access to legal employment options, mental health support, and proactive outreach from educational and community entities. By providing necessary resources and fostering a secure environment, Australia can deter student immigrants from criminal involvement and facilitate their educational journey.

The dreams of student immigrants can turn into nightmares when they fall victim to fraudsters operating through fake educational institutions. Exploiting the enticing wish of studying abroad, these fraudulent entities lure unsuspecting students with promises of quality education and guaranteed employment opportunities. However, the reality often involves non-existent or subpar courses, leaving students deceived and financially drained. Moreover, the illegal immigration of migrants under the guise of education compounds the issue. Unscrupulous individuals exploit the student visa system by enrolling migrants in sham courses while actually integrating them into the workforce. This circumvents immigration regulations and robs genuine students of their rightful educational experience.

“Baljit ‘Bobby’ Singh, Rakesh Kumar and Mukesh Sharma faced charges of defrauding and falsifying documents including police checks and student records, in relation to using two training colleges to illegally immigrate migrants into work force in the name of education. They also used the institute to dupe $2 million from the government in the name of research.”

These practices not only defraud students but also undermine the integrity of the education system and the broader immigration framework. To combat this, heightened regulatory scrutiny, transparent information dissemination, and stringent enforcement mechanisms are essential. By doing so, Australia can protect the aspirations of genuine student immigrants and uphold the reputation of its education sector.

Australia’s immigration policy exhibits certain vulnerabilities that are being exploited by immigrants and students to gain entry into the workforce. These individuals are leveraging avenues such as enrolling in short-term VET (Vocational Education and Training) courses, particularly in fields like medical sciences. While these courses may not substantially enhance skill levels, they offer extended work visa privileges. Regrettably, this phenomenon runs counter to Australia’s policy objectives of importing high-quality talent. It’s observed that students frequently opt for these brief courses even when lacking genuine interest and the requisite skills, resulting in a misalignment with the intended goals of the policy.

In recent years, the Chinese government has put in place a number of restrictions on the amount of money that Chinese citizens can send overseas. This has made it more difficult for Chinese students studying in Australia to send money back home to support themselves and their families. Moreover, the cost of living in Australia is relatively high, especially in major cities like Sydney and Melbourne leading to Chinese students finding ways to supplement their income in order to make ends meet. International students in Australia are only allowed to work up to 20 hours per week during term time and unlimited hours during semester breaks. This means that they need to find casual jobs that fit around their studies. As a result of these factors, many Chinese students in Australia are compelled to work casual jobs in order to make ends meet. These jobs are often low-paying and require long hours, but they can provide students with the income they need to support themselves and their studies. In addition to the financial reasons, Chinese students may also feel compelled to work casual jobs in order to gain work experience and improve their English language skills. The Chinese government’s remittance restrictions have had a significant impact on Chinese students studying in Australia. These constraints have resulted to be more challenging for students to support themselves and their families and work longer hours in low-paying occupations. This has had a negative impact on the students’ mental and physical health, and it has also made it more difficult for them to focus on their studies. The Australian government has expressed concern about the impact of the Chinese government’s remittance restrictions on Chinese students in Australia. The government has urged the Chinese government to relax these restrictions in order to make it easier for students to support themselves and their studies.


Economic repercussions on Australia due to student immigration

The mass influx of student immigrants to Australia has inadvertently exacerbated the housing crisis in many regions. The appeal of quality education and a welcoming environment has attracted a significant number of international students, placing additional strain on housing availability and affordability. The demand for accommodations, particularly in urban centers with prominent universities, often outpaces supply. As a result, rental prices surge, making housing unaffordable for both students and local residents. Additionally, the pressure on housing resources can lead to overcrowding, substandard living conditions, and exploitation by unscrupulous landlords. This crisis not only affects students but also impacts local communities, as they grapple with limited affordable housing options. To address this issue, a comprehensive approach involving increased investment in housing infrastructure, stricter regulations on rental practices, and collaborative efforts between universities and local authorities is crucial. Balancing the benefits of student immigration with the need for affordable and accessible housing is pivotal for fostering a harmonious and sustainable environment for all residents.

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a surge in inflation, impacting students and the economy alike. Students are confronted with higher living expenses, particularly concerning essentials like food, accommodation, and healthcare. This inflation exacerbates the financial challenges many students already face, making it harder to manage their education-related costs. For international students, the impact is compounded, as currency devaluation against the Australian dollar can further inflate their expenses. Students may need to allocate more of their budget to everyday necessities, potentially limiting their ability to invest in educational resources and experiences. Additionally, students who rely on part-time work to sustain themselves might face difficulties securing employment in a labor market strained by economic uncertainty, this has forced many to work in poor conditions and at wages below legal minimum wage — to mitigate these effects, targeted financial support and resources for students, along with mechanisms to control inflation, are necessary. By alleviating the economic burden on students, Australia can help maintain their well-being, support the broader economy, and sustain its reputation as a welcoming destination for education and international talent.

The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a revealing light on the delicate balance Australian universities maintain between financial stability and educational quality. Heavily reliant on international student fees, these institutions have faced a significant funding challenge due to travel restrictions and decreased enrollments. To bridge the financial gap, some universities have been compelled to make compromises that could impact educational standards. The reduction in revenue has led to difficult decisions, including staff cuts, reduced research funding, and streamlined resources. On top of that introduction of new and attractive courses in order to charm and entice the students without sufficient resources and educational structures have added fuel to the fire. These measures, while essential for financial survival, can inadvertently affect the student experience. Overcrowded classrooms, decreased support services, and strained faculty-student interactions are potential consequences that may compromise the overall quality of education. While these compromises are a response to extraordinary circumstances, they raise concerns about the long-term impact on Australia’s reputation as an educational hub. 

Striking a balance between financial sustainability and maintaining educational excellence is crucial. Government support, innovative revenue streams, and strategic planning are essential to ensure that Australian universities continue to offer high-quality education, attract international students, and remain globally competitive in a post-pandemic world.

Our analysis thus far has illuminated the considerable impact of student immigration on Australia. Addressing the issues of visa fraud and declining educational standards necessitates a shift in the approach to international education policy. The focus should pivot from merely maximizing student enrollments to prioritizing educational quality. 


Achieving this transformation requires several key strategies:

  • Elevating Entry Standards: Particular emphasis should be placed on raising the benchmarks for entry, especially with regard to English-language proficiency.
  • Strengthening Financial Requirements: Increasing the financial prerequisites for entry into Australia can serve as a deterrent to subpar intentions and ensure that genuine students are prioritized.
  • Severing the Link between Study, Work Rights, and Residency: Disassociating the privileges of studying, work rights, and permanent residency will contribute to a more genuine pursuit of education and career goals.

To navigate the challenge of balancing work and academic commitments, a tailored approach is essential. By adjusting work hour limits based on course types and academic levels, such as distinguishing between undergraduates and students in fields like arts versus those in rigorous disciplines like engineering, students can better manage their academic pursuits without compromising their employment opportunities. Furthermore, liberalizing post-graduation work visa rights tied to specific courses can serve to export authentic talent. Encouraging students to pursue their fields of interest post-graduation will likely result in a more dedicated and productive workforce.

To combat visa fraud both domestically and internationally, the establishment of a task force and the implementation of stringent policies are imperative. Integrating biometric security measures, akin to those utilized by the United States, can substantially curtail human trafficking, and mitigate financial losses attributed to fraudulent agents. This proactive approach will safeguard the integrity of Australia’s immigration system while preserving the interests of both students and the nation at large. 



ABC News. (2015, August 5). Three charged in Australia Post Immigration Fraud Probe. ABC News. 

Bulloch, D. (2016, December 15). Why China is concerned with money outflows. Forbes. 

Explainers, F. (2023, April 18). How useful is your degree? why Indian graduates remain unemployed. Firstpost. 

Ferguson, A. (n.d.). Revealed: How 7 eleven is ripping off its workers. Australian Breaking News Headlines & World News Online. 

Hare, J. (2023, January 5). India drives record rebound in foreign students. Australian Financial Review. 

Luu, M. (2021, November 23). How migration fraud works and ways to avoid visa scams in Australia. ABC News. 

McKenzie, N., Ballinger, A., & Kuang, W. (2022, October 31). “it’s easy”: Migration agents offering fake visas for $500 a month. The Age. 

“my life was ruined after I applied for a sponsored visa.” SBS Language. (n.d.). 

NewIndianXpress. (2022, June 9). 41 Indian universities feature in 2023 QS World Rankings List, none in top 150. The New Indian Express. 

Yu, C. (2023, May 17). Chinese graduates are asking where all the good jobs went. Foreign Policy. 

Showing 1 thought

Please check your email for a link to activate your account.

We use cookies on our websites. You are free to manage this via your browser setting at any time. OK