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Easy visa access to be extended in Australia

Select private colleges and TAFEs (Technical and Further Education colleges) in Australia have discovered they will also be able to benefit from streamlined visa processing designed to ease entry and boost Australia’s competitiveness in the field of international education. The move follows the streamlining of visa processing for universities last month.

All overseas students will be deemed low-risk – or from ‘level 1 risk assessment’ countries

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG), an intergovernmental forum led by the Prime Minister, announced today it would introduce a “revised framework for low immigration risk providers” for some colleges as early as the second half of this year.

Under the scheme all overseas students applying for visas will be deemed low-risk – or from ‘level 1 risk assessment’ countries. This should reduce waiting time for visas and lower the financial requirements for “high-risk” IE markets such as China (level 3) and India (level 4), as well as lowering rejection rates.

Industry figures welcomed the move but said it was too early to tell whether it would turn the embattled industry around.

Phil Honeywood, executive director of the The International Education Association of Australia said: “There’s been a philosophical push particularly from the coalition state governments to ensure that private providers are given more of an equal playing field, but at the end of the day the commonwealth government is the gatekeeper.

“It’s taken years to build up our high quality education reputation. That was lost to a large extent over the last few years and we need to regain it, so a comprehensive system for guaranteeing low-risk providers has to be assured.”

DIAC is still reviewing criteria for determining low-risk providers. Honeywood said he expected a staged approach, with TAFEs and well-established private colleges the first admitted to the new system.

English Australia’s executive director Sue Blundell said she hoped the revised assessment framework would be “genuinely inclusive of all types of providers”, so that English language colleges had “some chance of seeing a turnaround”. Rod Jones, CEO of Navitas, which runs private colleges across Australia, welcomed the news but said “the devil will be in the detail”.

“A comprehensive system for guaranteeing low-risk providers has to be assured”

Another concern may be the scheme’s onus on providers to ensure they only accept genuine students. Similar conditions apply in the university sector where some have warned requirements set by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) – concerning breaches of student visa conditions for example – are beyond institutions’ control.

Others have said the government needed to go further in reforms for private providers. “The next step is to introduce post-study work rights for students at the best public and private vocational training providers,” Claire Field, CEO of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET), said. Currently only those in the university sector are entitled to the generous post-study work concessions instigated after the Knight Review.

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