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 Australian Education Reporter - - OPINION - LIONEL CRA­NEN­BURGH

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.

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