International Education Agency-Australia, one of the largest education agent of Australia has welcomed the Government’s response to the Knight review into the student visa program, in particular steps to remove barriers for genuine higher education students to study in Australia.
The Australian federal government commissioned the Knight Review into the student visa program in Dec 2010 to investigate ways to make Australia more competitive whilst maintaining the integrity of the migration system and the quality of its education system.
This followed a steady downturn of international students choosing to study in Australia after changes to visa and migration policy in early 2010.
In June Michael Knight handed his report to the Government and on 22 September the Government, Senator Evans, Minister for Education, and Minister Bowen, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, released the report with the statement that they were accepting all 41 of Knight’s recommendations.
A number of significant changes are outlined below.
Changes to student visa eligibility and processing:
- That all higher education students applying to study a bachelor degree or higher at a university or a packaged course, regardless of country of origin, will be treated as a student from an AL1 country. This means a change to a declaration of proof of funds and in many countries the ability to apply via the eVisa system which should significantly reduce the time taken to secure a student visa. English language courses and other preparatory course will also be included in this streamlined process.
- Allowing English language students to apply for a visa without first meeting minimum English language skills requirements; and
- The policy of Pre¬Visa Assessment will be discontinued.
- That student visas be allowed to be granted in advance of four months before the commencement of the relevant course. Where necessary visas should specify a date before which the holder cannot enter Australia.
Changes to student work rights:
- An enhanced post study work visa regime for international university graduates, particularly withdrawing skills assessment and the requirement to work in any particular occupation.
- In addition the term of the post study work visa will increase from 18 to 24 months for undergraduates degrees, up to three years for Masters and four years for PhD.
- That student work entitlements be measured as 40 hours per fortnight instead of 20 hours per week
Changes to be made regarding Agents:
- That the necessary legislative changes be made to require the name of any agent involved to be entered into the student’s data into PRISMS.
- That DEEWR take steps to encourage providers to voluntarily enter agent data into PRISMS in the interim before the ESOS Act is changed to make this mandatory.
- That DIAC upgrade its liaison at overseas posts with migration and education agents in relation to the student visa program, including regular meetings to keep agents abreast of any changes in rules and procedures.
Changes to visa compliance and enforcement:
- The mandatory cancellation requirement for unsatisfactory attendance, unsatisfactory progress and working in excess of the hours allowed should be removed, giving DIAC officers the discretion to determine cancellation in particular cases on their merits.
- DIAC should concentrate its compliance and integrity resources in relation to student visas on the highest risk areas.
- Automatic cancellation of student visas should be abolished and replaced by a system in which information conveyed by SCVs is used as an input into a more targeted and strategic analysis of non‐compliance.
The full list of 41 recommendations has been provided below.
One of the most significant changes is that the onus on judging student visa eligibility has been passed to universities and their partners, who will need to ensure that standards are maintained otherwise the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) reserves the right to strip institutions of their ability to streamline visa processing.
Other education providers such as Vocation Education institutions have not yet been granted the ability to streamline their visa processing like the universities but the government has highlighted plans to widen this option based on a provider risk assessment.
In accepting Knight’s recommendations the Australian government has also indicated that it plans to review the current Assessment Level system and take further steps to improve the current risk management framework.
The implementation timeframe for many of these changes is not yet established but the government has committed to having most changes operational by the commencement of the second semester in 2012.
That a new element be introduced into the eligibility criteria for a student visa. That new criterion will be to assess whether the applicant is a genuine temporary entrant. This new criterion should be the first to be considered in assessing any application for a student visa.
A successful applicant must be both a genuine temporary entrant and a genuine student.
Recommendation 3 – streamlined visa processing for universities
3.1 That all students in the categories set out below, irrespective of their country of origin
– but subject to the provisions in 3.5, 3.6 and 3.7 should be treated as though they are all AL1.
3.2 This treatment should apply to the following university student applicants:
- Bachelor Degree;
- 2 plus 2 (or 3 plus 1) arrangements with partner universities;
- Masters Degree by Coursework.
3.3 The special treatment should not apply to:
- short courses;
- Associate Degree;
- Graduate diploma;
- Graduate certificate;
- Diploma and Advanced Diploma;
- non‐award courses (except as provided for in Recommendation 18);
- the non‐university courses at the six universities which are dual sector (VET and university).
3.4 The benefits should also apply to courses which are explicitly packaged with an eligible university course at the time when the offer of university enrolment is made. This might include English language (ELICOS) and/or foundation or pathway courses in circumstances where non compliance by the student at any part of the package would be regarded as non‐compliance with the university enrolment.
3.5 The government should continue to require appropriate health checks, health insurance, character (predominantly criminal record/connections) and security checks.
3.6 The underlying DIAC powers in regard to every individual student application should continue to exist.
3.7 The government should also reserve the right to exclude certain high risk groups from the streamlined approach for university applicants. For example, the government might want to carefully assess all applicants from a persecuted minority group in a particular country. Applicants from such a group might have a huge incentive to apply for protection visas as soon as they reach Australia. The Australian Government may or may not wish to take such people on humanitarian grounds but that should be a separate decision and should not get mixed up with the process of granting visas for university students.
Recommendation 4 Post Study Work Rights
4.1 All graduates of an Australian university Bachelor degree, who have spent at least two academic years studying that degree in Australia, and who have complied with their visa conditions, should receive two years work rights.
4.2 All graduates of an Australian university Mast
ers by Coursework degree, who have studied that degree in Australia, and who have complied with their visa conditions, should receive two years work rights on successful completion of their course.
4.3 This should apply irrespective of the nature of the course (for example whether it be Arts or Engineering) and not be tied to working in any particular occupation.
4.4 The mechanism for taking up these work rights should be administratively very simple with the following components:
- the university must notify that the course has been successfully completed. (This will be earlier than the formal graduation which could be many months after the course has been completed);
- DIAC should not undertake any detailed, time consuming, assessment of the applicant;
- the scheme must be one which can be marketed by the universities to prospective students as almost guaranteeing post study work rights.
That all Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students – visa subclass 574 ‐be treated as though they are all AL1 applicants.
That where any English language or other preparatory course is required by the Higher Degree by Research provider then the whole package still be treated as AL1.
That all Higher Degree by Research students be given unlimited work rights.
Masters by Research graduates should receive three years post‐study work rights and PhD graduates four years.
That the visa arrangements for Higher Degree by Research students be such that an extension for up to six months after submission of their thesis is available if needed during the interactive marking process.
That, provided the integrity measures relating to the revised criteria for a student visa are implemented (as set out in Recommendation 1), the threshold English language test requirements for stand alone ELICOS students be removed.
That the English language requirements for school students in AL4 be the same as those applying for AL1 through to AL3 and the associated waiver scheme abolished.
That the maximum period of time a school student visa holder can study English be 50 weeks across all ALs.
That the current restrictions on student guardians of a maximum of three months of study be maintained but unlimited part‐time study rights for ELICOS study only be allowed.
That pre‐paid homestay fees be included in financial assessments on the same basis as pre‐paid boarding fees.
That as a matter of some urgency AusAID, DIAC, DOHA and other relevant Australian government agencies develop an integrated policy in relation to the award of scholarships and how visa arrangements for awardees are to be managed. In particular they should address the situation of potential awardees who have a disability or HIV.
That PhD students entering under the subclass 576 visa have access to the same extension provisions recommended for Higher Degree by Research students in Recommendation 9, provided AusAID is prepared to fund their extended period.
That DIAC and DEEWR meet with State education authorities to work out what can be done to avoid the situation where a visa for a child dependent cannot be granted until proof of enrolment is present and state education authorities will not grant such proof until proof of visa grant is made. Any agreed remedy should apply across all student visa subclasses.
That students coming for semester or year¬long non‐award courses at an Australian university as part of their home universities degree and/or as part of an agreed student exchange between universities be given access to streamlined processing as outlined in Recommendation 3.
That DIAC undertake specific research targeted at integrity and compliance issues into student visa outcomes, including both primary and secondary applicants, to inform policy development.
That DIAC be appropriately funded to further develop research capability across the program.
That DIAC, to the extent permitted by legislation, co‐operate with its counterparts across all levels of government to facilitate information sharing, to inform evidence based decision making.
In the event that the research over the next 12 months reveals systemic abuse of dependant (secondary applicant) visas, that the government seriously consider mirroring the recent UK policy and restrict dependant visas to Masters and above courses unless the primary applicant is sponsored by a government.
Current arrangements whereby SCVs automatically become NCNs should cease. SCV information should continue to be conveyed to DIAC who should use it as an input into a more targeted and strategic analysis of non‐compliance.
Automatic cancellation of student visas should be abolished and replaced by a system in which information conveyed by SCVs is used as an input into a more targeted and strategic analysis of non‐compliance.
The mandatory cancellation requirement for unsatisfactory attendance, unsatisfactory progress and working in excess of the hours allowed should be removed, giving DIAC officers the discretion to determine cancellation in particular cases on their merits.
DIAC should concentrate its compliance and integrity resources in relation to student visas on the highest risk areas.
DIAC should not only respond to information generated by PRISMS but also be proactive in detecting the sorts of breaches (for example sham marriages and exceeding permissible work hours) which are not reported in PRISMS.
That student work entitlements be measured as 40 hours per fortnight instead of 20 hours per week
That the necessary legislative changes be made to require the name of any agent involved to be entered into the student’s data into PRISMS.
That DEEWR take steps to encourage providers to voluntarily enter agent data into PRISMS in the interim before the ESOS Act is changed to make this mandatory.
That DEEWR and DIAC establish a single student identifier to track international students through their studies in Australia.
That DIAC undertake a review of the AL framework, with a mind to either abolishing the system entirely or modifying the framework to make it relevant to current and future challenges facing the student visa program. This review should be managed by DIAC but should include reference to an external panel or reference group.
That DIAC upgrade its liaison at overseas posts with migration and education agents in relation to the student visa program, including regular meetings to keep agents abreast of any changes in rules and procedures.
That Austrade be asked to prepare a more detailed outlook document that provides effective business planning intelligence demonstrating the opportunities, for offshore provision of vo
That the highest quality Australian VET providers including TAFEs, be encouraged to explore offshore market opportunities.
That the Australian Government, through programs such as the Export Market Development Grants Scheme and other forms of assistance, support high quality Australian vocational education providers in expanding their offshore training services.
That DIAC constitute an Education Visa Advisory Group as a primary means of regular two way communication between stakeholders in the international education sector and DIAC.
That the policy regarding Pre‐Visa Assessment (PVA) be discontinued.
That student visas be allowed to be granted in advance of four months before the commencement of the relevant course. Where necessary visas should specify a date before which the holder cannot enter Australia.
That DIAC regularly reviews the current living cost amount, and based on the CPI or other measure amend the amount, as required.
That DIAC review the exclusion criteria and policy which relate to student visa non‐compliance.