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Australia asked to spare existing Indian students from new law

New Delhi, June 28 (Calcutta Tube) Around 15,000 Indian students in Australia could be forced to return home under a revised skills list that is set to become the mandate for visas and permanent residency to that country from July 1. Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi has urged Canberra to exempt existing students from the new list.

Australia has slashed the existing Skilled Occupations List (SOL) from 400 skills to just 181 for vocational courses and jobs, which are prerequisites to acquire permanent resident status and student visas.

Ravi, who visited Australia recently and raised the issue, is confident the Australian government will not turn down his plea, though he said it hasn’t committed to his request to exempt the existing students from the new skills list in order to let them finish with their courses and for permanent residency.

‘I asked the Australian ministers to implement the list prospectively and not retrospectively… I have asked them to give our students two and a half years’ time to find a sponsor and employment,’ Ravi told IANS, after returning from a week-long trip to Australia where he met Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, Trade Minister Simon Crean and Immigration and Citizenship Minister Chris Evans.

Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) Joint Secretary G. Gurucharan told IANS that 60 percent of the Indian students will not be affected by the revised list, and of the remaining, 30 percent will be given a transition period of two and a half years to either find a job or sponsor to acquire permanent resident status.

He said those in trouble are the remaining 10 percent, or around 10,000 students, who arrived in Australia on student visas with neither vocational nor language skills only intending to pick up jobs and secure permanent residency.

However, Ravi is confident that the authorities will not let down the students. He said: ‘I am confident and hopeful that Australia will not disappoint our students though they have not committed to us on anything… They will look into the matter.’

Gurucharan said the ministry had reasoned with the Australian authorities that despite prior knowledge that these students lacked vocational and language skills, Australia had issued them student visas and so now they cannot be forced to leave.

‘But they also had a good argument in their favour that when they gave these students visas, it was only a student visa and so under the new list they cannot be given permanent resident status. But still the minister (Ravi) spoke on their behalf to the Australian authorities and we are hopeful,’ he added.

Also affected by the new SOL are at least 5,000 other students. They were hit when the Australian government ordered closure of 34 of its privately-run institutes in the last few months for failing to meet the laid down standards. Many more institutes are expected to follow suit.

The High Commission of India in Australia had early this year warned students planning higher studies in that country of the existence of several sub-standard institutions which do not meet the standards set by the Australian federal and state governments.

The state government in Victoria is currently auditing 41 privately-run educational colleges. Further, the federal government has mandated that all education providers and institutions delivering to international students need to re-register by Dec 31, 2010, so that the government can ensure they meet the mandated standards.

During his visit, Ravi also held talks with the Victoria Premier John Brumby and asked him to take initiatives to help the Indian students continue with their courses in recognised institutes without being affected by the new list and also help them find employment under the state-sponsored immigration policy.

‘I tried to impress upon them that our students should not lose out on opportunities, they have spent a lot of money and energy to get there but when institutes are being shut down by the government, what will our children do? I am hoping they won’t disappoint our children,’ Ravi added.

(Lakshmi Krishnakumar can be contacted at lakshmi.k@ians.in)

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