It was expected that, once in power, the new Labor government in Canberra would take policy decisions in favor of increasing the number of migrants, especially by making it easier for many international students to get a pathway towards permanent residency. Australia, with a record low unemployment, is almost desperate to ensure the arrival of more workers to fill the demands of the job markets.
This is good news for the thousands of international students from countries like Nepal, the majority of which see studying abroad as a pathway for permanent migration. I have been engaging with many youths as part of our work and I have heard many stories about their plans to migrate abroad, some of which were at the best on the borderline of legality.
From a strong desire to get enrolled into the French Foreign Legion by faking a tourist trip to Europe to plans to arrange fake marriages to murky volunteering schemes, all the times I had to dissuade these youths from taking wrong decisions that would have brought them troubles.
No matter how good the higher education institutions of a country are, going to study overseas will always remain a tremendously enriching and impactful experience for students.
Yet there has always been a lot of push-up on their side though fortunately all of our volunteers at the end desisted from undertaking any legally doubtful decisions. In many cases, I could not really understand the reasons why they wanted, almost at all costs, to risk everything to start a new life through deception and lies.
Many of them even had jobs paying good money and they were enjoying a good life here in Nepal.
Yet for most of them, there was a strong determination to challenge themselves and try their luck, making money and starting anew in a new country.
For many of them, Australia was, unsurprisingly, the preferred destination and to some extent, I was shocked by the relative ease in obtaining student visas and traveling “Down Under”.
Recently I read an article in The Kathmandu Post, a piece explaining that, while the provisions of the new federal government in Australia were very progressive towards international students and recently migrated citizens, at the same time the process to get a visa is getting more tight and more difficult.
This development happens at the same time when the Department of Immigration here is drafting some controversial policies which would force Nepali citizens traveling overseas for tourism to be forced to get some clearance from the authorities, for what is, at all effects, a tourist visa in the reverse.
The reason behind such a move is explained by the high number of citizens of this country leaving with tourist visas but then ending up overstaying in the destination country or in others reached from their arrival point.
It is a big problem but I ended up being convinced that it is almost impossible to reign in. Many youths, especially those, like many of our former volunteers, who come from vulnerable backgrounds, simply want to get a better life.
It is an inner feeling and desire to travel abroad and have a shot at life that is almost unstoppable (I say this with sadness). It is never good for a nation when its youths put so much “creativity” in finding borderline ways of going abroad. It is never good for a nation to have youths put up such obstinacy in creating pathways to permanent immigration, far from home.
Yet it is unfair to judge them negatively, especially those who come from personal histories of struggles and hardships. They simply want to run away, the sooner, the better, and “enough is enough” for them.
While I do welcome stricter measures taken by the Australian Embassies and High Commissions from around the world to limit deceiving students and couples pretending to be what they are not, at the same time I do feel a lot for all those dreaming of a better life in Oz.
Yet the best way to curb dubious applications is not through “reverse” tourist visas or more stringent application processes or better due diligence.
What we need is a country that is better governed, a country that can be attractive to the thousands of youths putting in so much effort to go to destinations like Australia and other countries.
It is basically all about good and effective governance and a much more responsive government.
Perhaps, as many including myself have already written, the elections of independent and young candidates can be a real turning point, something that can become a big breakthrough moment for the future of this nation: Better jobs but also better-paid ones, better learning opportunities, better infrastructures, and amenities can pull many youths to stay over rather than depart.
Those choosing in one way or another to leave for overseas on a permanent basis have the right to aspire to a better life and their “whatever it takes approach” must be understood in such a context.
Many of them are legitimately trying to travel in good faith. Many couples doing the same are really in love and desire to start a family in a place where their children simply will get plenty of opportunities still not available in Nepal.
We know that one day Nepal will be a much better place to live and thrive. To an extent, the Nepal of today is unrecognizable (and for better) from the country of two decades ago but it will still take time to reach global standards.
In the meanwhile, we must hope that a new class of politicians approach their professions with passion, honesty and accountability but it would be unfair to leave all the responsibilities to them. Each citizen of this country also needs to step up and play their own part.
Active citizenship and hopefully a more inclusive and participatory political system are not abstract concepts but rather practical because they are used to accomplish the simple goal of helping solve problems and challenges affecting society.
It is also about more and better opportunities among youths to practice self-leadership, positively challenging ourselves not only for our personal good but also for the good of society.
Interestingly, I also believe that educational consultancies have an important role to play. Instead of acting just as brokers or agents, they could reinvent themselves also as orientation and guiding centers to explain the advantages but also the complexities to study overseas.
As their business model could be challenged by more restrictive visa screening procedures, they could reinvent themselves by offering a more holistic and more responsible service that will be truly in the best interest of their clients.
No matter how good the higher education institutions of a country are, going to study overseas will always remain a tremendously enriching and impactful experience for students, something that should be really recommended.
The challenge is to create a level playing field in which someone going to Sydney to study a Master’s degree course is incentivized to return no matter the attractive policies that the host country might put in place to have them stay longer. Countries like Australia, Canada, and Germany desperately need new manpower. But countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh need their youths back home too.
The truth is that this is a very difficult conundrum to solve and only a better Nepal can sway its youth back. Ultimately too many of us, including myself, too often, make too quick judgments, and too easily we reach conclusions about others’ plans for life and their right to dream for the better. As I am writing this, I am thinking of one of our best former volunteers, working two jobs a day in Australia with no weekly holiday.
Like him, there are so many others in Down Under who simply deserve our respect irrespective of their decisions to stay back or return home one day.
Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities. Opinions expressed are personal.