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Australia visa data raises questions about student swerve

Australia’s latest offshore visa application data has raised important questions about international student behaviour and whether or not they are deferring to alternative destinations.

Australia has also noted a substantial rise in student deferments in 2020. Photo: Pexels

"Work needs to be done to find out more about this pattern of student behaviour"


According to the country’s Department of Home Affairs, Australian offshore student visa numbers dropped by a third (33.5%) in the 2019-2020 financial year compared to the previous year, with an 88% drop in applications in May alone.


Universities in Australia have often been warned about their dependence on international tuition fees as a source of revenue; a recent report found this cohort accounted for an average of 26.2% of an institution’s revenue, and in some cases as high as 40%.

Anticipating fewer international students arriving due to Covid-19 has led many institutions to scale back spending or shutting facilities in an attempt to save money.


While the majority of the decline in the DHA’s latest data can be attributed to Covid-19, the figures show that even pre-pandemic there were 9% fewer applications than in the same period the year before.

In terms of onshore student visa lodgement, there has been a 10% increase in the number of applications, with Nepal and India seeing increases of 36% and 39% respectively.

IEAA CEO Phil Honeywood said the organisation was “happily surprised” that key market China has only retracted by 19.9% compared with the previous period. However, India dropped by 46% and Nepal was down more than 60%.

“We have to ask some questions: why is it so? And are these students actually going to other markets such as the UK?” said Honeywood during an AIEC webinar.

“Or are these students concerned about post-study work visa applications, which we hadn’t clarified with the visa flexibility package at the time the data was being put together.”

Honeywood added that it might also be the case that due to the financial impact of the pandemic, some students in certain source countries did not have the funds to pay for a student visa.

“The other point is that Australia overall has been containing the virus much better than most other countries. That’s a plus point, but my Indian friends say the borders stayed closed too long,” he added.

Honeywood said more investigation is needed to unpick this pattern of student behaviour, a suggestion that was echoed by webinar attendees via social media.

Additionally, Australia has so far noted a substantial rise in student deferments in 2020, involving either a delayed commencement or a temporary suspension of an existing enrolment.

For the year-to-date May 2020, there were 60,870 deferments – 45,597 more than in 2019

According to government data for the year-to-date May 2020, there were 60,870 deferments – approximately 45,500 more than in the same period in 2019.

Of the total deferred enrolments, 12% (7,355) of students had since resumed studying, another 58% (35,318) had deferred their start date to the second half of 2020, and 22% (13,392) had either deferred their starting date to 2021 or beyond.

The largest number of deferments came from students in China, with an increase of 35,615 in deferments from 2019 to 2020, followed by India (1,924).

Earlier this week, a pilot scheme that would see 300 overseas students return to South Australia in September was announced by the country’s trade minister, a move that was widely welcomed by the sector.

Honeywood at IEAA said: “We‘re pushing hard on the federal government to allow states and territories that have contained the virus start bringing back international students.”

He explained that a new survey from Deloitte had suggested that not many international students are planning to change from Australia to another country.

For example, only 6% of Chinese students intended to come to Australia have decided this point in time that they won’t come to Australia.

“[According to the survey] that is because we have a world-class health system, we’re likely to have quicker economic recovery than some of the countries that we’re competing against and also there is a  strong desire for face to face and not online learning to continue,” Honeywood explained.

“We need to look at more comprehensive transnational education and school sector strategies”

However, Honeywood added that there are certain areas where Australia “needs to play catch up”.

“I think one of the lessons we’ve learnt from this pandemic is we need to look at more comprehensive transnational education and school sector strategies, as we’re finding more and more international high schools are teaching Canadian and UK matriculation year 12 university entry certificates.

I think it’s been too easy for Australia in the past to rely on students coming to study in Australia itself, and not really have any offshore campuses,” he added.

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22 Responses to Australia visa data raises questions about student swerve

  1. I think the drop in students from India and Nepal has more to do with the lack of work available. Students who need loans from home but have less chance of work while in Australia will wait a year.

  2. One reason is that it is becoming tough for Indians to get job after their study is complete . Most of the companies ask for permanent visa which is not possible for the students to get just after their course completion. If this problem is solved I think more students would start preferring Australia to other countries. Indian students back home get a negative feedback about job opportunities and hence opt for some other country with better job opportunities

  3. I’m an international student from Zambia(Africa) currently studying online at Curtin College, Australia.
    Due to the pandemic, how long will it take for student visas to be granted since they’ve started processing them?
    And also, I was suggesting that students who have already started studying online should be granted entry ASAP, because the motivation levels are dropping and depression is starting to kick in. Some countries have opened up for international students, we would really appreciate if Australia did the same for us. If this is the new normal, you might as well give us a chance to travel to Australia before the end of the year.
    Taking this into consideration will be of great help.

  4. Exactly, no doubt about studies in Australia could be a better decision ,if Australian government solve a problem of getting job there in Australia in a same field related to study of a student , which will attract more international students to their country rather then UK and Canada placements if done from college or university

  5. Please open the borders for international students
    Keep all the safety measures.. 14 day qurantine and everything
    But atleast open the borders
    It’s very important for students
    Paying huge amount of fees and studying online is really depressing.
    Some people are studying on loans
    They cannot take it for granted
    Canada has open it’s borders already
    It’s my request to AUSTRALIAN GOVT to consider my request
    And write back to me ASAP

  6. Australia should consider fee/policy like UK, US and Canada. Dependent children of an International student also have to pay full international fee in Public schools. It’s far too much they are asking.

  7. Hi we need students who wants to spend their money here and prove that they are able to pay for study either their parents or if they have relative in Australia so far Chinese students were the best they come here to study but Indian and Nepalese students are come from hungry countries they come to Australia to use our resources I don’t think they are useful for this country in my opinion we should prepare the job market for students but immigration should issue visa for students who are able to pay for their study and they are not rely on job market here in my opinion anyone who can pay for his or her their study regardless of their country and political view should have same opportunity to get student visa.

    • I think government should flexible PERMANENT RESIDENCY which was the most attracting feature. The PSW does not give international Students jobs as most job listed has PR requirements. And for PR, job is required for higher points. If government does not make this flexible for the student who study here, definetely Australia is not going to get future internation students in same place.

    • I am pretty much sure mate, those hungry coutries have given much resources for you to use than they have taken and helped at least small business to grow with hard work they do. It may not be interms of money but work they do. Please consider them as a part who booms the economy

  8. It’s been high tike that the borders are closed. Paying huge amounts of money for an online learning isn’t worth. Other countries are opening up their borders by establishing air bubbles. Being so less cases what’s holding Australians back from opening up borders for international students. I receive a mail everyday from my university saying that international students are most valuable to them. If that’s true then what’s stopping the government to take us in and resume our on campus studies..

  9. So now Australia is begging for international students, I remember how I got my student visa rejected in Feb 19 just because I don’t have house ownership papers.. These stupid rules should be changed soon or after pandemic.. that if you truly want to save your educational system.

  10. i have offer letter but here in Pakistan due to closure of Biometric, i can’t apply for visa, any body have info when will it open?

  11. It is very clear most international students are coming here to get a permanent visa. Study is not their first priority. They need to provide proof of financial support before a visa can be issued. Majority of student are stuck doing tedious crappy jobs like Uber eats deliveries just to be alive. It’s pathetic to see these students making our cities look like 3rd world. Most of them don’t even attend classes.
    Don’t use this pandemic as leverage to get visas. Firstly prove you are a genuine student with funds available to support your student life. Then go applying for a visa.

  12. No one knows when borders will open in Australia.
    IMO, it really depends on a vaccine. At the moment there are still huge numbers of Australian citizens waiting to return, but the quarantine system has been tightened because a few idiots tried to cheat it. The South Australian trial of flying in 300 students will test what works and what doesn’t.

  13. All countries USA, UK, Canada, Singapore had already open for international students to return.
    Australia should follow as well. Students cannot just do online with fee paid for face to face class.
    They are wiling to pay the 14 days quarantine and even do Covid19 test before board the flight to Australia.

  14. Plz.. its very long now… how long we will wait to come back.. we have already sacrificed a lot.. plz open the border for international students.. i m ready to pay for quarantine fees too..we chose australia thinking it is the best education provider but we r suffering as i guess all the other countries have open the border for international students under strict precautions .. so y not australia????

  15. My husband has Sub class 476 visa which is getting expired. This visa can’t even get extended. What will he do now ? We are financially dependent on him and it is getting worse and worse every day. Kindly open borders Australia. Why are you being so cruel ????

  16. Please open borders now almost 6 month completing how long we have to wait i came india with baby&husband. Now our money also we paid college fee also and my visa also finish and I apply new visa that my last semester At least think about those international student who living Australia more than 3 year they make everything paying house rent and tax also.
    Please Scott Morrison listen to all international student requests we are happy to pay quarantine fee also.

  17. According to me, the Australian Government is giving very Diplomatic statements regarding Border Closure and International Student Travel.
    Initially, they were saying, They would allow international students in early July 2020. Then Nothing happened. Now they said, they will give VISA to students who started online in July 2020, still not hope about when those students would be able to travel.

    So as me being one of the students, who want to start studies in Australia, I would like to have a clear message from the Government regarding this issue.

    Education is Australia’s fourth-largest business, so we need them as much as they need us.

  18. One of my friend got admission in June 2020 from an Adelaide Uni, Visa in August 2020, online classes started ($ is bit less like some 5-10% but not at all worth), there was talk of Pilot program for Students in Canberra & now in Adelaide. Its all talk no progress.

    I think its form of cheating from govt, when borders are closed and no travel in picture why to issue admissions and visas, how long do you put them in a ambiguous state. So you want business, money but can’t afford getting them on board.

    Poor thing with the initial statement from govt of piolot and all they were eager and paid the fees. now they have no option but stuck with this.

    Just think they would have waited back at home and applied for next year at the worst, else would have opted other countries at the best.

  19. I put Australia over other countries not to do online Study, its been more than six months we are waiting for the updates for reopening of the borders, I don’t know what politics is government doing. When all other countries are allowing students to enter then whats the problem with Australia, they do have fear of pandemic but at least they have considered the mind state of students who have spent a large amount of money. Your diplomatic answers are really making students please take wise decisions no one is denying to stay isolated for two weeks. Kindly consider our condition we are suffering badly with your late decisions and regretting too for choosing this as destination

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