These students say they are “in limbo” as Australia’s Department of Home Affairs, which oversees immigration, refuses to provide a clear timeline of when students can expect to hear the outcome of their applications.
Alokita, an Indian student, received an offer to study aerospace engineering at UNSW Canberra in September 2020 and was due to begin her PhD in February 2021.
“I have been suffering from insomnia, anxiety attacks and depression”
Her visa has been “under assessment” since she submitted the application at the beginning of October 2020 and she says when she asks for updates from the DHA, she only ever receives “generic” responses.
Alokita says the university has been “very supportive” and has already let her defer her place five times due to the delay, but it will not allow any further deferments – if her visa is not accepted by June, she will lose her scholarship and PhD place.
“Every day I wake up in a hope to get a conclusion, a direction, and a fixed course of action but every day I am faced with the same uncertainties,” Alokita said, adding that the last two years have been “filled with insane amounts of stress”.
UNSW Canberra did not respond to requests for comment.
Hamed, a 34-year old from Iran, received an offer for a PhD course in electrical engineering from the University of Newcastle and is still waiting for a decision on his visa application, which he submitted in January 2020.
“I cannot get these two years back”
Hamed said he has turned down several job offers as he believed he would be moving to Australia.
“I cannot get these two years back,” he said. “I cannot make plans for my future, and it is making me nervous every day.”
The applicants all say that they have contacted the DHA many times – in some cases, their universities and supervisors have also contacted the DHA on their behalf – but responses from the government agency rarely indicate when they can expect a decision.
“Each time they send a generic response saying that my application is under active consideration and that the mandatory checks from external agencies might take two years or longer,” said Tanushree, another Indian student who says she has been waiting for over a year for a visa decision.
“I have been suffering from insomnia, anxiety attacks and depression… This visa delay is affecting my mental sanity,” she said.
The students also claim that they know others who have applied for the same visas more recently and have been granted them.
“We are seeing students who have applied just a couple of months ago receiving their visas while students like me have been waiting for more than one and a half years,” Alokita said.
On the DHA’s website it says that 75% of postgraduate research visas are finalised within 85 days and that, “in March 2022, 90% of applications where the client is outside Australia were finalised in 74 days”. It is unclear how many applicants are currently waiting for delayed decisions.
“Student visa applications from applicants outside Australia are being prioritised to allow new students to enter Australia and commence their course,” the DHA website states. “As such, processing times for this cohort are faster.”
However, a departmental spokesperson from the DHA told the PIE News that “the time it takes to process a student visa is dependent on a range of factors, including the personal circumstances of the applicant.
“A visa cannot be granted until the Department is satisfied all requirements have been met.
“All non-citizens applying for visas to enter Australia are considered on an individual basis and against legal requirements set out in Australia’s migration legislation.”
The spokesperson also confirmed that between November 20, 2021 and April 29, 2022, the DHA granted nearly 84,000 student visas to applicants offshore.