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Institutions and agents react to visa chaos in Australia

There is a desperate need for more clarity on visa refusals, say Australian stakeholders, while one agency CEO warns of damage to student demand for study in Australia.
March 13 2024
4 Min Read

Educators and student recruiters in Australia are slamming the current visa squeeze which they say is significantly harming the reputation of Australia’s international education industry.

Institutions speaking to The PIE warn of a business chaos and a fallout for brand Australia, given rejections which do not seem to make sense and some ongoing paralysis in terms of visa decisions. There is a story circulating of twin applicants, with one awarded a visa and the other rejected.

One assessment level 2 university spoke to The PIE. “It’s difficult with the way SSVF works here in Australia with understanding how criteria can be met for Genuine Temporary Entrant visa,” they said.

Sharing concern that those rejected may seek to study elsewhere, they added, “There are those [applicants] that will have to defer and we’d have to put them through the rinse again to GTE-assess them – and what is my confidence level that they’d get a visa?”

They added that Group of Eight level 1 universities are having record intakes “and the rest of us are just really being hammered by visa settings”.

“The industry and our clients are screaming for some kind of road map,” insisted Ian Pratt of Lexis English.

“There has been nothing but confusion among providers since December in trying to discern the basis for visa refusals.  Certainly, visas that would absolutely have been approved just last year are being routinely rejected, but every provider has a different theory as to the decision making process.”

“We have a number of intending students who appear to be in some kind of perpetual visa limbo”

Each institution is given an assessment level which is used to assess its visa applicants – the government explains this is factored based on criteria such as rate of visa cancellations, visa refusals and visa holders becoming unlawful non-citizens.

Concerns are rife that a gap will grow between level 1 and level 2 or 3 institutions. Phil Honeywood of IEAA told The PIE, “Probably as an unintended consequence of the migration strategy, we’re in the unfortunate position where the lowest level risk providers are seemingly getting even more student visas approved than other providers.

“What this translates as is potentially a dichotomy developing between the haves and the have nots when it comes to student visa approvals.”

Pratt agreed that unexplained visa refusals means potentially punishing institutions keen to safeguard their assessment level.

“Here in Australia, institutions are ultimately ‘responsible’ for visa refusals, meaning that we are punished by moving to an unfavourable Assessment Level,” he explained.

“Of course, with absolutely no idea which visas will be accepted and which will be refused, we’re seeing institutions across all sectors – from towering state universities down to ELICOS providers – choosing to simply refuse to provide COEs (and in many cases even cancel those already issued).”

Shayaz Khan, founder and CEO of Blue Sky Consultancy, also shared his experience with The PIE. His firm, a MARA-registered consultancy, operates primarily in Australia and has branches across India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Dubai.

Speaking about a rising number of refusals, Khan stated, “This is truly disheartening. We’re left without words for the students and their families. We’re at a loss.”

He said that students might explore other options if visa rejections persist, even considering Australian educational institutions based in Dubai.

He clarified the disparity in the appeal process, highlighting the advantage of lodging visa applications onshore in Australia through a MARA-registered agency, which allows for appeal in case of rejection — an option not extended to offshore international applicants.

“These students have invested not just their money but their time and effort as well. Australian visa fees are among the highest (AUD$ 710 plus card charges), and yet, without a thorough assessment, they face rejection. Who will compensate them for their investment?”

Pratt explained that it is not just visa refusals harming the sector and creating chaos but ongoing paralysis in terms of a decision outcome in some cases.

“We have a number of intending students who appear to be in some kind of perpetual visa limbo, neither accepted or refused,” he said.

CEO of IDP, Tennealle O’Shannessy, also called for more clarity on evidence requirements and transparency on visa refusals when speaking at the UA conference in Canberra.

At an IEAA webinar that The PIE attended, September 2023 was pinpointed as seeing lowest visa approval rate of 66.4% across all applications, however since then ongoing confusion has grown among stakeholders regarding decision outcomes.

“Differing instructions to agents are almost funny at this point,” relayed Pratt. “School A won’t accept Thai women over 30, Colombians over the age of 25 studying on a package or Italians on General English only.

“Whereas School B has no problem with older Thais, but won’t accept high school students from China, or Peruvians without previous tertiary qualifications, or whatever. So, chaos reigns.”

James McNess at Active Study said the current state of play was accelerating his plans to send students to other destinations.

Currently serving onshore students and those from Europe, southeast Asia, Pacific Islands and South Africa, he told The PIE that promoting the US, UK and Canada had taken on greater focus.

“I am also looking at less popular destinations such as Singapore and UAE which appeal to students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds,” he said.

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