OVERSEAS students who use hairdressing and cookery courses as a ticket to permanent residency are being shut out.
As the global economy hits the skids the Government has revised its skilled migration program to focus on medical and key IT professionals, engineers and construction trades.
This could affect tens of thousands of students who use hairdressing, cooking, accountancy and IT to qualify for a permanent visa.
The skills program had been first come, first served.
Immigration and Citizenship Minister Chris Evans said yesterday a revised program for the next six months would fast-track visas for migrants with critically needed skills. People sponsored by employers and state and territory governments would also be favoured.
"This will ensure our migration program is more responsive to the needs of the economy, and assists industries still experiencing skills shortages," Senator Evans said.
"In the current economic climate it is important that priority is given to those applications where the person has skills in critical need."
The immigration intake would remain at a record high of 200,000 this year.
"Employer-sponsored visas (will) occupy an increasing share of the skilled program, with 36,000 visas likely in the current year," he said.
Immigration expert Dr Bob Birrell said increasing numbers of students from South-East Asia, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka had been using cooking, hairdressing and accountancy courses to fast-track permanent entry.
But often they could not find employment in these areas. Their prospects of permanent residency "have been much reduced".
"The program could be cut by at least half if the Government is serious," the Monash University researcher said.
Senator Evans said the existing ceiling of 133,500 skilled migrants would remain. The full critical skills list is expected to be released today.
The crackdown comes amid a sudden contraction in the number of skilled vacancies in Australia, and figures that show demand for skilled workers has slumped by 7.2 per cent this month.
The fall in the skilled vacancy index is the biggest since the 1990 recession.
Demand for tradesmen fell by 9 per cent, marketing and advertising was down 11.5 per cent and metal trades down almost 16 per cent.
The Australian Industry Group welcomed the decision to maintain the current migration intake. "There can be a two-year lag between application and arrival," AIG chief Heather Ridout said.
Cuts could reduce skilled migration just as Australia emerged from the economic crisis.