Tough Australian student visa requirements to be lifted

The Australian, one of Australia’s leading newspapers, described the review as ‘a jewel’, praising its clarity, its depth, and even the entertaining way in which it is written. But it is not the literary value of Michael Knight’s review of the Australian student visa process that will most please Australia’s 39 universities and those who harbour ambitions of studying in one of them, but the nature of the proposals made within – all 41 of which have been approved by the Australian government.

The publication of the report has been eagerly awaited. It was commissioned in December 2010, a consultation period was run in March, during which various groups could submit their proposals to Knight (around 200 were submitted), and the final document was submitted to the Australian government at the end of June. The report was finally published, along with an announcement of the government’s acceptance of the proposals, on September 22nd.

For those thinking about studying in Australia the news will be welcome. The tough visa process, which has reportedly played a large part in the drop in international student numbers which has occurred in Australia since 2009, has been simplified. The changes will be particularly welcomed by students from Asian nations such as India and China, who, despite contributing the highest number of international students, were subject to some of the most stringent regulations.

The main change is that all students wishing to study at degree level will now be processed at the lowest assessment level (the Australian visa system puts applicants at different levels, each with different requirements). Previously this level varied depending on the student’s country of origin – if they found themselves in one of the higher assessment levels, as students from the aforementioned pair of countries did, they were required to meet a set of demands that could prove quite challenging.

For instance, students would be required to show that they were in possession of enough money to fund the first 24 months of their stay in Australia, on top of their tuition. With the figure reckoned at A$18,000, this meant that the student, or their family, had to park a massive A$36,000 in a bank account for several months, on top of finding the money for Australian universities’ international student fees. As you can imagine, these figures are quite daunting, even for the relatively affluent. Now, the student needs to simply declare they can afford it, allowing them to raise the money in more manageable instalments, or to work at a part time job while there to earn it as they go along.

The change will put much of the process in the hands of the universities, who have been warned that this additional power comes with responsibility. If they are found to be issuing visas irresponsibly then they will be penalized by being forced to revert to the old system – which is sure to cost them dearly in terms of international student numbers.

Knight also recommends that graduates of Australian universities are allowed to work in the country for two years after they graduate. At present there is no provision for graduates to stay on and work, the result of which is that Australia is made to seem unwelcoming, and the amount of added value a student can get from studying there is reduced.

For students who have completed a research Masters, this will be extended to three years, rising to four for those who have a PhD. Working hours limitations, which previously stood at 20 hours a week, will also be removed for research students, who are believed to be particularly central to the creation of jobs in Knight’s eyes.

The justification for the changes, according to the author, is that Australia’s second biggest import is under threat from the competition – if nothing happened, the decline in international student numbers that began last year, and looks to be accelerating this year, would only continue. The cost to Australia, should this occur, would be huge, and for no good reason, because as Knight points out, the university sector is stable and easy to regulate due its size, and very few international students want to abuse the system.

The VET (vocational) sector will remain largely unchanged, although the streamlined process will also apply to vocational and intensive English language courses connected to university courses. The changes will, it should be noted, not come into effect instantly, but will only be applicable from the second semester of the 2012 academic year (which in Australia runs parallel to the calendar year). To read the report in full,  click here.

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