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Australian sector braces as new visa requirements come in

The Australian government has said that recent international student visa grants are down by 35% on the previous year due to its actions since September.

New changes are being introduced on March 23. Photo: pexels

The government will also increase the imposition of “no further stay” conditions on visitor visas

In an announcement dated March 21, the government said it will deliver on key commitments from December’s migration strategy with important new changes on March 23, including introducing higher language requirements for visas and a new ‘no further stay’ rule on visitor visas.

It said changes were needed due to “pandemic-era concessions” it had inherited from the former government led by Scott Morrison.

“Since September, the government’s actions have led to substantial declines in migration levels, with recent international student visa grants down by 35% on the previous year,” minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security Clare O’Neil said.

Among actions it has made are closing unrestricted working hours for international students, in addition to the pandemic event visa.

English language requirements for student visas will rise from IELTS 5.5 to 6.0 and graduate visas from IELTS 6.0 to 6.5, which will both improve student experience and reduce potential workplace exploitation.

New powers under Section 97 of the ESOS Act also come into force on March 23, which will allow authorities to suspend high risk education providers from recruiting international students.

Highest risk providers will be issued with warning notices and given six months to “get their act together”, government said.

The new Genuine Student Test – clarifying applicants’ study intentions and their economic circumstances  – will be introduced to “further crack down on international students looking to come to Australia primarily to work, rather than study”, it added.

The government will also increase the imposition of “no further stay” conditions on visitor visas, meaning applicants need to obtain visas before coming to Australia.

“The actions this weekend will continue to drive migration levels down while delivering on our commitments in the Migration Strategy to fix the broken system we inherited,” O’Neil added.

English Australia said the announcements from government “appear to have been rushed out” following the Australian Bureau of Statistics net migration figures.

The numbers showing the 548,800 net increase in arrivals in the country in the year to September 30 was the highest 12-month net migration period in Australia’s history.

However, other ABS data has shown student visa applications and approvals have fallen by more than a third over the 12 months to February this year.

The peak body for English language education in Australia said that the English requirement for visas was a “surprise early implementation”, as the Department of Home Affairs had not indicated an intention to implement this before July in recent meetings.

ELICOS students will remain exempt to the language requirements, but if students have enrolled in packages with other programs, they will need to meet the new requirement of 6.0 or equivalent by the end of the ELICOS program.

The ELICOS program should additionally not be longer than 20 weeks.

For any courses that have entry requirements lower than the 6.0 IELTS, students still need 6.0 scores in order to obtain visas. Foundation Programs will also not be impacted, remaining at 5.5.

Further exemptions are not expected to be published for at least another week, English Australia CEO Ian Aird advised members.

“No guidance has been provided for providers or students wishing to make packaged enrolment applications in the interim period,” he said.

“English Australia is continuing to work with the DHA to understand these changes and their implementation and is advocating strongly for more transparency and for more carefully targeted and more effectively implemented changes to enable a more equitable and sustainable system.”

The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia highlighted that its members were given eight days to implement the Genuine Student Requirement before March 23.

“The Australian government is all at sea when it comes to international education policy”

Given the change is “one of the most significant changes to the student visa framework in more than eight years”, chief executive Troy Williams said the move “reflects a growing belief across the ITECA membership that the Australian government is all at sea when it comes to international education policy”.

“The Genuine Student Requirement is one of a suite of initiatives being put in place by the Australian government to address one regulatory failure,” he said.

“To deal with this regulatory failure, the government is implementing additional and more punitive regulations. Red tape sales must be going through the roof in Canberra.”

Speaking on Channel 7 Sunrise on March 22, minister for education Jason Clare was quizzed on accommodation shortages.

“On those ABS numbers that came out [on March 21], a big part of those migration numbers are students, international students that have come back to Australia after the pandemic, either to finish a degree or to start a degree,” he said.

“The forecasts show that migration is expected to go down over the next year or so. We want it to go down, but we’ve also got to build more houses. We’ve got to build more homes for Australians…

“Universities have got a role to play here as well to make sure that we’re providing accommodation for students and making sure that accommodation for Aussie students is affordable as well.”

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