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Educators outraged at visa price hikes, Australia

Australian educators are outraged by government plans to increase the cost of student visas at a time when the country is fighting to regain its position in the global education market. It comes as Brazil complains the cost of an Australian study permit is already too high for its students.

According to DIAC 15% of all international students apply for second visas onshore

From July 1, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) will introduce a range of surcharges in various visa categories in a bid to make Australia’s visa system more competitive and generate revenue. One of them, the Subsequent Temporary Application Charge (STAC), could impact international students dramatically – making anyone who applies for a second student visa on Australian soil pay AUS$700 on top of the standard student visa fee ($535)–  some $1,235 in total.

This could for instance impact someone who comes to Australia to study an English language course, then decides to study a degree course (which would require them to apply for a new visa). Their dependents would each have to pay, too.

“We believe this new visa impost will act as a significant deterrent for many students”

Phil Honeywood, executive director of the International Education Association of Australia, told The PIE: “Students from many of Australia’s key source countries often prefer to enrol in a short English language or Diploma before deciding to remain in Australia and extend their studies.

“We believe this new visa impost will act as a significant deterrent for many such students.”

According to DIAC 15% of all international students apply for second visas onshore – a high proportion, says Sue Blundell, CEO of English Australia. She feels the decision to increase fees would compromise Australia’s reputation for flexible visa services, and that the DIAC is engaged in a “cash grab” and unlikely to channel revenue generated back into improving visa services.

With international education exports falling every year since 2009, others question the timing of the charges. None of the peak bodies for international education say they had been consulted about the rises.

“With the sector on its knees, what is the government’s response?” said Claire Field, CEO of ACPET, which represents Australia’s private education providers. “To make study in Australia even less attractive…students will be punished financially and made to feel even less welcome in Australia.”

DIAC said the rises would bring Australia’s “outdated” visa pricing system in line with competitors. It argued that the Subsequent Temporary Application Charge was necessary to prevent people using successive temporary visas to remain in the country.

Demand for visas was “robust” and would not be stifled, added a spokesperson. “There is no evidence historically that increases in visa pricing have affected underlying visa demand. In the majority of cases, the overall cost of an Australian visa relative to the monetary value of living, working or studying in Australia remains very low,” they said.

Brazil warned Australia that visa fees were already too high and could affect the Science Without Borders programme

Awkwardly, Brazil warned Australia this month that visa fees were already too high and could affect interest in the Science Without Borders scholarship programme, which sends some 22,000 Brazilians abroad annually.

It says the AUS$535 fee compares unfavourably to Canada’s visa at $130 (Canada also offers discounts to SWB students), New Zealand’s at $210, and the United States’ at $170.

Julio Laranjeira, the deputy head of mission at the Brazilian embassy in Canberra, told the Australian he was lobbying both DIAC and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

“DFAT has been very sensitive to our request and I understand there are ongoing negotiations between that department and Immigration in order to come up with a solution that will be mutually satisfactory,” he said. “I hope this will happen sooner rather than later so as to ensure the continuing success of this initiative.”

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