PhD students from countries including Iran, China and Pakistan who hold offers from Australian universities say they have been waiting up to three years to obtain visas. Students estimate that over 300 Iranian doctoral candidates are currently affected.
Iranian student Hamed received an offer for a PhD course in electrical engineering from an Australian university. When he spoke to The PIE in May 2022, he had been waiting two years for a visa decision. Now, tired of deferring, Hamed has secured another scholarship at a UK university.
“The entirety of [the] UK process, from the interview for the position to the visa admission, took about five months,” Hamed said, adding that he will travel to the UK this month to begin his studies.
“I am worried that we’ll see a decline in our ability to recruit top PhD students in the coming years”
Academics have warned that they could continue to lose promising students if the situation is not resolved.
“I am worried that we’ll see a decline in our ability to recruit top PhD students in the coming years,” said Clément Canonne, a computer science lecturer at the University of Sydney.
“The current situation is damaging our international reputation: why would these top students take the risk of accepting an offer here given that this may mean waiting for months or years without being able to start or without income, and seeing other work and PhD opportunities pass by?”
Canonne shared his concerns on Twitter, prompting other academics to weigh in, with some describing the situation as “frustrating” and “unbearable”.
Data from the Department of Home Affairs shows that 90% of postgraduate research visas are processed in 10 months. In December, home affairs minister Clare O’Neil commented on the issue, saying that some visas “are more complicated than others”.
“Having young people studying PhDs in our country on areas of significance to our nation is crucially important and we are not going to continue to see that if we are forcing people to wait for years at a time,” she added.
O’Neil said the government is trying to “get this system working” but that doing so is like “turning the Titanic”.
In September, the newly-elected government announced that it would review the country’s migration system, with an initial report expected in early 2023.
A spokesperson from the DHA said that offshore student visas were prioritised “for most of 2022” and a record number of these were finalised between July and December 2022.
“Over this period, over 670 offshore student visas were granted to Iranian nationals,” the spokesperson added. “Almost 200 visa grants were for study in the postgraduate research sector. This is nearly twice the number of offshore student visas granted for this cohort over the same period in 2017/18 through to 2020/21.”