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Australian Student Visa Program to Be Reviewed

Posted on December 18, 2010
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As the number of international students coming to Australia continues to drop, the Federal Government has announced a review of the student visa program.

A federal government review of the student visa program aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of the international education sector is critical to stopping the industry from contracting further, educators say.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans announced the review on Thursday.

Senator Evans said the sector had come under increasing pressure as a result of the rising value of the Australian dollar, the impact of the global financial crisis abroad and growing competition from the United States, New Zealand and Canada for international students.

“The size and nature of the international education sector has also changed dramatically over the past decade and it is critical that we take a whole-of-government approach in responding to these changes,” he said.

Former NSW Labor politician Michael Knight has been appointed to head up the review and report to Mr. Bowen and Senator Evans by mid next-year.

His task will be to recommend more effective frameworks between key players and requirements for student visa applicants.

“The review will look at ways to better manage immigration risk in the student visa caseload and deter breaches and misuse of the program, as well as consider the suitability of separate visas for different education sectors,” Mr. Bowen said.

“The government is also introducing a package of measures to streamline the visa application process for lower risk cohorts while continuing to uphold the integrity of the program.”

The new measures include reducing visa assessment levels for Chinese and Indian applicants and refining the rules for pre-paid boarding fees so they are counted in cost of living requirements in applications.

Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET) acting chief executive Clare Field said the review would provide a welcome opportunity for industry consultation to help stabilize the sector.

“This is a very important review for the stability, prosperity and future of Australia’s third largest export industry and I congratulate the Australian government on responding effectively to the concerns of industry in drafting the terms of reference,” Ms Field said.

It was critical the growing disparities between Australian, US, UK and Canadian visa practices were addressed to avoid the industry contracting further, jobs being lost and institutes closing, Ms Field said.

Universities Australia chairman Peter Coaldrake said the review could not be more timely.

“Coming as the latest government figures show a clear decline in higher education international student enrolments, after increasing at 11 per cent a year for the past eight years,” Prof Coaldrake said.

A perception that Australia was not welcoming or safe was part of the reason behind the decline in numbers, along with the GFC, Universities Australia said.

“The strong Australian dollar is not the sole reason,” Prof Coaldrake said.

“This downturn in enrolments has significant implications not just for Australia’s higher education system, but also for the nation itself due to the flow-on contribution international students make to domestic employment as well as improving our cultural awareness.”

India is the second largest source of international students. However, with enrollments dropping by about 30% this year and expected to drop further. Relaxed student visa rules will be introduced following the review, to increase the number of overseas students. 

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