Aussie student visa changes a mixed bag
Policy changes to Australia’s $18.5 billion export market, which caters to about 404,000-plus international students, have unleashed a hornet’s nest of unexpected problems from the start.
THE Coalition Government’s review, conducted by the Hon Michael Knight (AO), led to a Simplified Student Visa Framework (SSVF) which came into effect on 1 July, 2016.
It promised great benefits by reducing the visa categories from eight to two and a simplified single immigration risk framework, among other changes.
From the outset, thousands of overseas students – particularly from China – were caught up in delays to have their visas processed, forcing some educational institutions to postpone course commencement, according to news reports.
The Australian newspaper reported that recently introduced changes to processing of student visa applications had led to major delays, causing universities and English language colleges to postpone courses.
“We’ve had a 50 percent increase in applications this year, which is a good problem to have, but delays in processing are not good for our reputation,” University of NSW vice president international Fiona Docherty told The Australian in August 2016.
Brett Blacker, chief executive of English Australia, which represents English-language colleges, said a lot of these students were set to study English courses, then move into foundation courses and degree programs.
“The knock-on effect of delays means they will miss the start date for their next intake,” he told The Australian.
A Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) spokesperson acknowledged changes to the visa system had created a backlog.
The Department was on course to complete 75 per cent of applications within a month, and students with a place at a university or college could arrive on a bridging visa to start their course in time.
DIBP has stepped up scrutiny to identify non-genuine students recruited by unscrupulous agents, ‘ghost’ students, where the student enrols at a university but does not attend, and ‘course hopping’.
“If you transfer to a course of study that is not eligible for streamlined visa processing or if you change the level of qualification you are studying towards, and have not been granted a new visa appropriate to your new course, your visa might be considered for cancellation,” the DIBP website cautioned.
Australia has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of international visas cancelled or under review in recent years.
The number of cancelled visas for non-genuine students increased from
1978 in 2012 to 4930 in 2013 and 7061 in
2014, attributed to a variety of reasons to exploit loopholes for reduced evidence requirements.
A major recruiter based in Australia that recruits mainly Indian and Nepalese students through agents conducted a rigorous review of its agent’s recruiting processes.
As a result of the review it severed business ties with more than 40 agents.
Former president of the Council of International Students Mr Thomson Ch’ng condemned the practice of recruiting non-genuine students in 2015.
He said visa cancellation took place for many reasons and there was more need for transparency in sharing data on visa fraud.
It was important to know what proportion was due to actual fraud, breaches of immigration policy, cancelling study plans or withdrawal from study.
A study by Universities of Australia showed that enrolments for English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) was a major cause for visa rejections, which Mr Blacker termed a “crisis” to The Australian.
The new changes in 2016 to the English language test for visa applicants requires evidence of English language proficiency by students using the Pearson Test of English or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
A benefit of SSVP announced by the Coalition Government was that it would support the growth of the international education sector by improving integrity while streamlining the process.
While it has done so successfully, an MP from India’s parliamentary lower house represented an aerospace engineer from one of India’s prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology, whose application for a visa was rejected on alleged suspicion of the “proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” after being offered a fully-funded PHD position by the University of Melbourne.
In 2016 the Punjab Education minister Daljit Singh Cheema told the Times of India that he would take up the case of a student that had passed the Class XII level of the Punjab School Education Board (PSEB) and had his application for study under visa subclass 572 rejected on the grounds that the PSEB qualification was not the equivalent of the Australian Grade 12.
On balance, reports are positive; students will need to show reduced financial requirements to support study and have an opportunity to work longer hours, while low-quality providers are being weeded out.