Cooks galore and hairdressers aplenty.

Author:Birrell, Bob
 
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Overseas student commencements in cooking and hairdressing courses have nearly tripled between 2004 and 2006. This growth reflects the advantages which Migrant Occupations in Demand List (MODL) listing of these two occupations has given for those seeking permanent residence in Australia. The article critically examines the standards of the Registered Training Organisations providing the training. In particular the state and federal regulatory bodies which oversee their operation do not assess the competency of those completing these courses. The article concludes that only a minority of those completing these courses and subsequently gaining permanent residence will actually enter the cooking and hairdressing occupations in Australia. There is an urgent need for reform to the procedures by which occupations come to be listed on the MODL and of the skilled migration regulations which have allowed the situation to develop.

INTRODUCTION

Since mid-2001 the Australian government has provided incentives for overseas students studying at Australian universities to apply for permanent residence after completing certain university courses. This has prompted a surge of enrolments in these courses. Students completing accounting and information technology have dominated this particular means of gaining permanent residence. (1) By 2004-05, the onshore skilled overseas student visa categories (880, 881 and 882) constituted a major component of Australia's skilled migration program. (2)

A similar pattern is currently unfolding with overseas students who have completed trade level courses in Australia. This may be read as good news, since there are serious shortages in some construction, metal and electrical trades. But that is not where the immigration growth is occurring. Rather, it is among cooks and hairdressers. As indicated in Table 1, onshore skilled overseas student visas issued to cooks, and to a lesser extent hairdressers, increased sharply from 2001-02 to 2005-06. By contrast, Table 1 shows that there were only a tiny number of visas issued to former overseas students in other trade occupations.

A further surge in the number of visas for overseas students who have completed training in cooking and hairdressing is about to occur. This expectation stems from two sources. First, there has been a sharp recent increase in commencements in courses of study in the field of 'services, hospitality and transport', which includes commercial cookery and hairdressing, within the vocational training and education (VTE) sector shown in Table 2. Second, we believe that most of this growth is from overseas students interested in gaining a permanent residence (PR) visa on completion of their course. Table 2 indicates that:

* Between 2002 and 2006, the number of overseas students commencing vocational courses in the services, hospitality and transport field nearly quadrupled, from 4,516 to 17,869.

* Most of the growth took place between 2004 and 2006 when total commencements increased by 167 per cent, or 11,181.

* Based on recently released DEST statistics, this field accounted for 64 percent of total international commencements growth in the VTE sector between 2005 and 2006. (3)

* This growth was concentrated overwhelmingly in courses run by non-government or private training providers, which attracted 87 per cent of additional commencements between 2004 and 2006 (9,757 out of 11,181). The non-government sector had an 80 per cent share of all overseas student commencements in these fields in 2006.

There are two possible objections to the claim that visa applications based on cooking and hairdressing credentials will rise. One concerns the assertion that cooking and hairdressing dominate the 'services, hospitality and transport' field. Unfortunately the AEI database from which the enrolment data are drawn does not provide separate figures for commencements in cooking and hairdressing. Our confidence that enrolments in the 'services, hospitality and transport' fields are mainly in these courses derives from informants in the sector and from enrolment data taken from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET) website.

The second possible objection concerns the alleged link between enrolments in these fields and subsequent applications for 880, 881 or 882 visa subclasses. There were some 6,688 commencements in the 'services, hospitality and transport' field in 2004 but only a little over 1000 visas issued to applicants for these visas for cooks and hairdressers in 2005-06, a period when most of these 2004 commencers would have been eligible to apply for PR. But we expect a higher proportion of commencers, particularly in the cooking field, will apply for PR in the immediate future. This is because cooking was first listed on the Migrant Occupations in Demand List (MODL) in May 2005. As explained below, by this time, the attainment of credentials in a MODL listed occupation had become crucial if a student wished to obtain PR. This circumstance helps explain the dramatic increase in commencements in the 'services, hospitality and transport' field in 2005 and 2006 shown in Table 2.

The sudden availability of this opportunity for PR also helps explain the simultaneous rapid entry of private training organisations attuned to the overseas student market into the VTE cooking marketplace, as detailed below. The first concrete signs of the hypothesised surge in PR applications for cooks and hairdressers of such organisations is being registered at Trades Recognition Australia (TRA), the body responsible for assessing the trade credentials of PR applicants. According to data provided by TRA, the number of applications for assessment on the part of onshore cooks was 1104 in 2005-06. For 2006-07 (year to February 2007) there were 1743 applications. This implies at least 2500 for the full year 2006-07 and probably more, given that the normal pattern is for applications to be high through March, April and May. Hairdresser applications are also expected to double from 277 in 2005-06 to around 550 in 2006-07.

The article begins by exploring why the expansion of permanent immigration from former overseas students with trade qualifications will be primarily amongst cooks and hairdressers. There are some shortages of cooks and hairdressers, but nothing on the scale of vacancies for tradespersons in the traditional metal, electrical and construction trades. It then examines the characteristics of the nongovernment providers of cooking and hairdressing courses. What is the quality of their courses? Will the students who complete the training in question, and who go on to obtain PR, actually fill gaps in the cooking and hairdressing workforce? If as is argued, few fill such gaps, how is it that the government agencies involved in the migration process have let this situation develop?

THE SETTING: THE ONSHORE OVERSEAS STUDENT PR VISA PROGRAM

Since mid-June 2001, former overseas students trained in Australia have been encouraged to apply for PR on completion of their university or trade courses. To do so, they have to meet criteria set in place by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC). For most skilled migrants this involves an assessment hinging mainly on the skill level of their occupation, their age, job experience, and English language proficiency. As far as former overseas students are concerned, only those with certain professional or trade qualifications in occupations designated as '60-point occupations' are eligible to apply onshore. Cooks and hairdressers are included in the eligible trade occupations. If they are to be granted PR, applicants must reach a certain number of points (currently 120) on the basis of scores allocated for each of the assessment items. The Australian Government has encouraged recruitment of former overseas students by granting them an additional five points for their Australian training and by waiving the necessity for work experience in their nominated occupation, a criterion that applies to offshore applicants for skilled migration PR. As long as former overseas students apply for PR within six months of completing their course, and possess training acceptable for one of the '60 point' professional or trade occupations listed on DIAC's Skilled Occupation List (SOL), they are eligible to apply for PR under the three onshore student categories (880, 881 and 882).

The addition of cooking to the MODL list in May 2005 (hairdressing has been listed since 2001) has played a crucial role in determining the PR prospects for former overseas students because, if an applicant's nominated occupation is on the MODL, he or she gains an extra 15 points or an extra 20 points if they also have a firm job offer. These extra points are vital because DIAC raised the pass mark from 115 to 120 for overseas students applying for PR on or after 1 April 2005. This pass mark is extremely difficult to reach without MODL points. (4) Indeed, by 2005-06, relatively few onshore applicants without an occupation on the MODL gained a PR visa.

So, why has the response been so strong among cooks and hairdressers? There are a number of traditional trades in metal, electrical and construction industries listed on the MODL. The answer is that, for overseas students interested in PR, cooking and hairdressing offer the cheapest and most accessible training opportunity leading to the trade qualifications needed for immigration purposes.

THE MIGRATION INDUSTRY

The creation of immigration opportunities merely sets the scene. Understanding the surge in enrolments (detailed in Table 2) requires an awareness of the players in the migration process. There is a huge unmet demand for access to Australia from would-be migrants in East Asia and the Indian subcontinent. People want access to the income that Australian work opportunities offer. This may be through temporary work visas...

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