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Australia announces extensive student visa programme reforms

The Australian Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, along with the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, have released this month key information about a set of reforms to the country’s student visa programme, to be phased in from late 2011 through mid-2013. The reforms come as a result of the work of the Hon Michael Knight AO, who was charged in December 2010 (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, January 2011) with leading a review of Australia’s approach to student visas, with the goal of strengthening both the integrity of the visa programme and the competitiveness of the Australian education system. The government has now officially announced its support “in principle” for all 41 of Mr. Knight’s recommendations.

Among the key reforms, the “assessment level” (AL) framework will immediately be streamlined so that all university-level applicants will be ‘upgraded’ to AL1, the level at which applicants are considered least “risky” for student visa abuse. However, this approach to visa risk will likely be adjusted as early as the second half of 2012 in favour of a “provider-based risk management model”. A similar model has been introduced in the UK and another is under consideration in New Zealand. The idea is to give substantial weight in the student visa decision process to the track records of the specific institutions where the applicants are planning to enrol.
Other notable components of the revised visa programme: 

  • the minimum amount of financial support sub-bachelor and vocational education and training applicants need to demonstrate will be reduced, in some cases by up to AUD 36 000 (EUR 26 160);
  • university graduates at all levels may qualify for a post-study work visa for up to four years with minimal restrictions; and 
  • “Higher degree by research” (HDR) students will enjoy unlimited work rights during the period of study, and can count on legal status in Australia for up to six months for the thesis evaluation process.

The Australian authorities are also planning to introduce an important new threshold criterion for all applicants, to be known as the “genuine temporary entrant” (GTE) test. As in the US, where student visa applicants have to prove they do not intend to immigrate, the Australian GTE requirement will “explicitly address whether the individual circumstances of an applicant indicate that their main aim is for a temporary stay in Australia to study and then return home”.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship