The rise in the number of Bhutanese students moving to Australia is a result of pent-up demand following the pandemic, say recruiters working in the region.
Australian immigration granted 5,523 student visas to Bhutanese nationals outside of the country in 2022, compared to 344 the previous year.
In 2019/20, before the pandemic, 1,447 student visas were granted to Bhutanese people.
After India, Australia is the destination of choice for Bhutanese students. In comparison, only 300 Bhutanese students were study in Canada and 40 in the UK in 2021/22.
With a population of just over 777,000, Bhutan’s government is thought to be concerned about an exodus of skilled workers and students from the country.
But while a high unemployment rate in Bhutan is driving some young people to look for opportunities elsewhere, education agents say most of the growth is down to the lifting of travel restrictions after the pandemic.
“Bhutan cannot supply that many students”
“Let’s not get too excited that 6,000 students are coming from Bhutan. Bhutan cannot supply that many students,” said Ravi Lochan Singh, managing director at Global Reach, speaking at The PIE Live Australia in July.
Bhutan was one of the last countries in Asia to reopen its borders for international travel in July 2022. During the pandemic, IELTS and other English language exams were also suspended, creating an additional barrier for those hoping to study abroad.
Singh described the growth over the past two years as “a kind of sandbagging effect”.
“How long will it be sustained? I really don’t know,” he added.
Abul Hasnat, regional director for Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal at Navitas, told The PIE News, “We are dealing with almost three years [of] graduates who couldn’t travel due to lockdown.”
Australia’s appeal in Bhutan is in part due to historic political relationships between the two countries, with Australia providing aid and support for training the country’s civil servants at the end of the 20th century.
When Bhutan transitioned to a democracy in 2007, four cabinet members, including the prime minister, had been educated in Australia.
But recruiting students from Bhutan is not straightforward, Lochan Singh warned.
As well as a daily tourist levy making visiting expensive, education agents are also tightly regulated. According to AgentBee, the government recently warned the public against working with unlicensed education agents.
“Right now they have put a moratorium on the number of agents that the country can have because they’ve already got quite a few the last many years,” said Lochan Singh.
Those who do study abroad are different from typical international students in Australia.
The average age to get married in Bhutan is between 23-24 years, meaning many students bring dependants, who are included in student visa numbers.
And, unlike other international student populations, Bhutanese students have not typically migrated to Sydney and Melbourne.
“Bhutanese students do not like to explore new locations unless they have some Bhutanese communities in [the] same location. They mainly choose Perth and Brisbane due to referrals from Bhutanese communities out there,” said Hasnat.
While the Bhutanese government is encouraging students to return to the country after studying abroad, Hasnat said some students are keen to stay in Australia.
“There are mixed plans of students,” he said. “There are good numbers of students who are planning for migration due to the post Covid economic situation in Bhutan.
“We have implemented additional compliance checks to ensure we are recruiting genuine students.”
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