At the end of May, there were 105,300 people on 408 visas, up from 17,000 less than a year ago.
The major source nations are similar to Australia’s major international student home countries. Nearly 18,000 408 visa holders are from India, followed by Nepal (11,700), China (6400), the Philippines (5,300), Colombia (5200) and Brazil (4500).
“No wonder international education lobby groups are desperate for this visa stream to be closed as they are bleeding student fee revenue,” said Mr Rizvi.
Many thousands more would have applied in June and July as a cap on the number of hours students can legally work each week was reintroduced on July 1. The Department of Home Affairs was contacted for updated numbers but had not replied by deadline.
This visa stream has existed in various forms since early 2020. It was designed to enable people in Australia on temporary visas, which had expired or would do so within 90 days, to stay and work lawfully while the borders were closed.
No rationale, completely abused
Brett Blacker, chief executive of English Australia, the peak group for English-language courses, said the visa was “completely outdated” given that every other COVID-19 related measure had ended.
“There is no rationale for this visa to exist. I am being contacted by colleges on a weekly basis about more students who arrive for a 10-week course to study English and then abandoning ship for a 408 visa because it gives them the right to 12 months unlimited work,” Mr Blacker said.
The visa is free, online and is almost instantly approved.
“Why approvals aren’t based on any sorts of benchmarks opens it up to being exploited,” Mr Blacker said.
Mr Rizvi said once the 12 months was up, people would be left in limbo and would either have to return home, apply for asylum or stay on illegally.
A spokeswoman for immigration minister Andrew Giles declined to comment but sources said there are moves afoot to shut the visa down.
The original requirements were that 408 visa holders would work in areas of extreme skill shortages such as aged care and the health sector. But these were dropped and holders now can work unlimited hours wherever they choose.
Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, said the 408 visa “had been totally abused”.
“Its time has gone,” he said. “It was only ever meant to be [a] temporary COVID option. Excuses from corporate Australia that they need these students to work full-time to do menial jobs will need to be satisfied through other avenues of the labour force.“