Australia Moves To Streamline Student Visa System

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Students eyeing to study in Australia now have more reasons to rejoice. The Australian government has recently announced that by the middle of next year, international students applying to study in Australia will undergo a simpler student visa process than its current process. This announcement comes after the UK government recently tabled new rules to shove work rights for non-EU higher education students, a move which drew stark responses and criticism by UK’s industry experts.

This move follows the recent release of a report, “Future directions for streamlined visa processing”, where consultations led to a simplified student framework (SSVF) to replace the current framework, now set to expire on June 30, 2016.
Some of the key notable changes include:
– Reducing the number of student visa subclasses from eight to two
– Forming a single immigration risk framework to assess all international students applying to study any program (university, VET, English, etc) in Australia
According to the government the changes are “designed to make the student visa framework simpler to navigate for genuine students, deliver a more targeted approach to immigration integrity, and create a level playing field for all education providers.”
The announcement of the SSVF was made by Michaelia Cash, Assistant Minister for Immigration & Border Protection alongside Minister for Education & Training, Christopher Pyne. “The SSVF will support the growth of the international education sector by enhancing both competitiveness and integrity while extending streamlined processing to all education sectors and all course types,” said Minister Cash. The minister further added that the integrity of the student visa program will be maintained under SSVF with improved regulations aimed to relieve education providers from current burdens relating to ensuring international students comply with immigration laws.
The upcoming SSVF will also include participation from all Australian education institutions – starkly different from its previous model that was applicable to only a select group of universities.

What SVP was

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The original SVP catered to participating education providers, which for the most part, was made up of universities. Therefore, only certain prospective students were able to enjoy the benefits of having lesser evidentiary immigration evidence. These SVP-approved universities in return then had to fulfill a list of obligations to ensure students complied with the immigration regulations. What the SVP failed to address were private VET and English language training institutions (ELICOS). Universities have benefited quite significantly from the SVP versus other educators where statistics from the Department for Immigration and Border Protection shows that SVP providers had a visa grant rate of 96.1% compared to 85.4% for non-SVP providers in 2013/14.
Selected private colleges have since gained access to system after much lobbying, but were still subject to undergo complicated visa risk assessments to qualify. This is rather startling considering that vocational and ELICOS institutions are considered an integral part of Australia’s education system. For the most part, the ELICOS sector was excluded from SVP as it was recognized as an “enabling course’ – where the language course needs to be provided by an SVP-listed institution or a nominated educational business partner.
While SVP-approved universities did benefit from easier visa processing for its students, it came at a huge financial cost with the average expense per institution estimated by DIBP at UAS$249,300 to fulfill its SVP obligations.
Moreover, there have been concerns raised on international students “course-hopping” through SVP by moving from universities to VET schools, or simply seeking employment in Australia. In fact, a report from The Australian showed a surge in student frauds with an increased amount of cancelled student visa in recent years.
Nonetheless, SVP is credited to help Australia rebound the inflow of international students after years of decline where in the first quarter of 2015, Australia accepted 11% more new international students than in 2014.


Reducing burdens and making it simpler for students

Australian educators are rejoicing with SSVF’s more inclusive approach to streamline visa processing as this would be much easier for prospective students to understand and apply for compared to SVP. SSVF includes easing several constraints for institutions which include:
– It is not mandatory for education providers to implement strategies to obtain or maintain lower immigration rating
– SSVF will apply to all education providers, without the need to officially opt-in like SVF
– No formal nomination of educational partners are necessary, where institutions can package with other educational providers they have a commercial agreement


Industry reactions

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Executive Director of English Australia welcome the recent move for the change stating,

“Since the introduction of SVP in 2012, English Australia has continued to communicate our concerns regarding the negative impact on the English language sector and the fact that the SVP model was just not sustainable in the long term. We are delighted that the Department has listened to our concerns and that the government has accept the recommendations to establish a new framework which will make it easier for genuine students to apply for a visa to study with high-quality, low-risk education providers.”

CEO of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA), Phil Honeywood also shared similar sentiments and noted,

“Any new framework that removes the complexity of our current system is welcome. While SVP has been beneficial, it is unsustainable in the long term. It has created a dichotomy between the “haves and have not” providers and has a high administration cost.”
Anne-Marie Lawson, Deputy Chief Executive for Universities Australia further concurred, adding, “These changes reflect an ongoing commitment by the government to support international education through good policy and effective regulation. We support a risk managed approach to the student visa regime that rewards low risk providers with access to simpler visa processes for their students. The new simplified student visa process will boost equity and support an environment where high quality and low risk providers can prosper.

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