Students applying to the University of Wollongong, as well as at least one other unnamed university, have been told to withdraw their applications as the institutions believe they will be unlikely to meet new visa criteria under the migration strategy.
They have been told by the universities that after withdrawing their applications, their full fee will be refunded.
Stakeholders in India have warned that substantial changes, announced by the Australian government in December, have not yet been implemented.
As well as creating a new Genuine Student Test, as part of last year’s strategy the government revealed an integrity unit that would apply “greater and more targeted scrutiny” to applications from “high-risk providers”.
The strategy detailed that two ministerial directions. The first – yet to be introduced – will outline key consideration areas for decision makers including applicants’ circumstances, such as academic or career progression, and “the usefulness of the intended study to their future career prospects”.
The second says student visa application priority will be based on risk-level of providers – the strategy said this would come into effect by the end of 2023, “in time to support processing for the 2023/24 student visa peak season”.
“Higher risk providers will experience slower processing times as visa decision makers consider the integrity of a provider, as well as the individual student applicants,” the plan stated.
The Indian agency association AAERI is “deeply concerned” with the situation, and says that the finer details of the policy has not yet been announced.
It noted that the student visa processing time is longer than usual and the current rejection rate is much higher.
This financial year, the number of student visa holders is set to drop by more than 90,000.
“We believe that there is extra scrutiny to applications at this stage,” AAERI said. “We all are waiting for the implementation of the new migration strategy and finer details of the proposed Genuine Student Test.”
Others have also voiced challenges with visa rejection.
Some have warned The PIE that immigration officials have been reviewing applications with the new Genuine Student Test despite the legislation not yet being in place.
They fear that some applications are being reviewed against the new GST and others against the Genuine Temporary Entrant, which remains in operation.
“UOW has determined that you are unlikely to meet the new criteria to obtain a positive visa outcome”
At the time of publication, the Department of Home Affairs had not responded to questions from The PIE to confirm whether this is correct.
Wollongong’s letter to a nursing course applicant, shared with The PIE, stated that the student had been issued a confirmation of enrolment for the Autumn 2024 session but had not yet received a visa outcome.
“Given those changes [by the Australian government], the close commencement of your preferred intake, and the fact that you have not received a visa outcome as yet, UOW has determined that you are unlikely to meet the new criteria to obtain a positive visa outcome,” the student was told.
“As such, UOW will not be able to provide the Bachelor of Nursing to you… and your CoE has been cancelled.”
AAERI says that the institution is protecting its immigration risk rating by telling the student to withdraw.
“This is not a good practice,” AAERI president, Nishi Borra, said.
“Students lose the application fee of almost AUS$735 and another $500-800 in foreign exchange. Students are clearly at a loss. Plus, as education consultants it puts us on the back foot to advise students on such…
“The welfare of students is totally ignored and students are not being treated fairly.
“The university can any time cancel the COE if they find that the student has any fraud submission or misleading claims and if there was a lapse in their own admission or GTE vetting system, but without any reason asking the students to withdraw is not the way.”
A Wollongong university spokesperson said that the Department of Home Affairs and each university “aims to ensure each student application to study at an Australian university is genuine”.
It works “in strict alignment” with the department’s guidance and continuously monitors compliance risks, they continued.
“DoHA visa outcome monitoring recently identified an elevated risk of non-genuine applications, and UOW is adjusting processes related to admission and genuine temporary entrant screening processes in response to this.
“This continuous monitoring and adjustment activity is a normal approach across the Australian university sector – where international students play an important role – not just due to the contribution international students make to the Australian economy, but also the significant contribution international students make to Australia’s social and cultural capital.”
Managing director of Global Reach, Ravi Lochan Singh, told The PIE that one of its students from Kerala had received similar communication from UOW.
“We find it incomprehensible that the university feels that students who are at visa stage will not meet the new requirements.
“The new requirements are not yet public and all visas lodged prior to the implementation continue to be processed under regulations at the time of visa lodgements.”
Students not able to get visas in time for their intake should be able to defer their enrolments, he added.
“If the student withdraws, they incur expense of the visa fee that is lost and also the money paid to the university will need to be refunded in full but there is bound to be a loss due to forex rate differentials between the rate to send funds and to receive funds. The student has also invested time in the process.”
Other universities are also asking students to withdraw at the visa stage, he added.
“[It’s] not good practice at all.”
Update 8.30 GMT February 9: comments from Ravi Lochan Singh have been added to this article.