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India VET visa rejections sending “mixed messages”

Student visa grant rates remain a concern for Australia’s Vocational Education and Training sector after a slump in issuance rates in the second half of 2022, say sector representatives. 

High visa rejection rates are due to a number of factors, including the ongoing visa backlog. Photo: Unsplash.

The overall VET grant rate for offshore applications was 4.6% for Indian students

Between August and December 2022, the overall VET grant rate for offshore applications was 3.8% for Indian students, 16.8% for Nepal, and 23.4% for Pakistan, according to data from the Department of Home Affairs. 

Earlier this month, Troy Williams, CEO of ITECA, told The PIE that some members felt the DHA “seems to be contemptuous of the international skills training sector”. 

“The student visa application rejection rate is more profound in the international skills training sector, with some members now questioning whether their institution will be viable over the medium term,” Williams added. 

In ITECA’s submission to the government’s migration system review, the organisation wrote that the government is “sending mixed messages to the Indian student market”, as Australia simultaneously finalised a trade agreement with India while maintaining low visa grant rates to Indians. 

Dugald Murray, executive director at the Victorian TAFE Association, added that the high rejection rate “damages the reputation of Australia as a destination of choice for overseas students looking to gain valuable vocational skills and training and makes it difficult for Australian institutes to fill courses”.

VET consultant Claire Field said the high visa rejection rates were in part due to the ongoing visa backlog that has hampered Australia since it reopened borders at the end of 2021.  

“The government then recruited more visa processing officials to tackle the backlog but it appears that many of the new staff do not have immigration or education sector expertise,” Field said. 

IIEA’s CEO, Phil Honeywood, also raised concerns around a lack of trained staff available at Australian embassies last year.

At the same time, Australia has seen a surge in demand, with the DHA reporting that offshore student visa applications between July and October 2022 were 40% higher than for the same period in 2019.  

“With VET course fees much lower than higher education fees and some VET providers further discounting to attract new students – these measures attracted some students looking to work full-time on a student visa,” Field said.

But the DHA warned last July that it had found fraudulent documents in students visa applications and towards the end of 2022 and there were also media reports of the involvement of VET providers in sex trafficking later in the year. 

“Some VET providers and education agents have been using the unlimited work rights opportunity to encourage applications from non-genuine students”

“Based on anecdotal reports, it seems likely that some of the newly recruited visa processing officials in the Department of Home Affairs then adopted a highly risk averse approach and hence the very high rates of visa refusals for some students,” said Field.  

“On the other hand it’s also clear that some VET providers and education agents have been using the unlimited work rights opportunity to encourage applications from non-genuine students.”

In submissions to a parliamentary inquiry, the Victorian TAFE Association, which represents Victoria’s 12 TAFE institutes, recommended that the government “prioritise and differentiate visa applications for international students who choose to study at TAFEs” rather than private registered training organisations and asked for TAFE visa data to be disaggregated from general VET data. 

“TAFEs are publicly owned, come under stringent state and federal regulation and offer the highest quality,” Murray told The PIE. “Differentiated visas for international students seeking to study at a TAFE institute would help to lift visa approval rates while maintaining quality and student outcomes.”

A spokesperson from the DHA said it recognises the contributions international students make to Australia.

“Visa application assessments are based on its individual merits and against the criteria prescribed in Australia’s migration legislation,” the spokesperson said.

“Decisions made to grant, or refuse a student visa application are balanced against the intent of the student visa program. That is to facilitate the entry of genuine students seeking to travel to Australia for the purpose of undertaking study.”

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