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The changing face of agency engagement with Australia

Australia has embraced working with student recruitment agencies for many years, and has well established training and guidelines for agent behaviour. Agency relationships with their institutional partners are undergoing significant change as a result of the recent modifications to visa processes including streamlined visa processing for universities, assessing students’ genuine status and the prospect of post-study work visas for graduate students to be introduced in 2013.

To learn more about the effects on educators and agencies, ICEF Monitor caught up with Mr Chris Evason, IES Managing Director of PIER (Professional International Education Resources), which offers professional development and agent training for Australian-focused recruitment worldwide.

Our three-part interview below provides an excellent overview of each of these developments in turn, starting off with the Genuine Temporary Entrant (GTE) requirement.

Under GTE, each student must convince the Department of Immigration & Citizenship (DIAC) that they are a “genuine student” who wishes to leave Australia and return to their home country after their studies. Just like in the UK where the UKBA has ramped up their visa interviews, industry players are now concerned about how these judgements are being made and confused as to how agencies and educators can best prepare candidates.

In addition, Australia now reserves the right to adjust the visa application category based on world events. For example, currently Spain and Greece are considered “higher risk” than previously due to the economic situation in these countries.

Moving on, we discuss streamlined visa processing (SVP) for universities, which came into effect in April 2012 to speed up visa processing times. The issue, Evason explains, is the payoff:

“The universities have been provided with this benefit on the basis that they will take more responsibility for the behaviour of their students.”

Universities are now risk-rated on the following criteria:

  • rate of cancellation of student visas;
  • rate of overstay of students after visa expiry;
  • rate of applying for permanent residence;
  • rate of visa refusal for fraud.

If a school’s risk rating goes above a certain level, they will not be eligible for SVP for two years, which can cripple an institution. Universities are therefore nervous about engaging new agents for fear of increasing their risk profile, and agents are concerned about the extra work involved in assessing the financial aspects of their clients.

As we have often stressed, open and honest relationships are critical – universities are more reliant on their agency partners to judge the suitability of every student visa applicant, regarding GTE and financial capability. Evason stresses, “Trust has become the key issue now.”

Tania Gerlach, Principal Migration Officer for Austrade (Australian Trade Commission), concurred:

“Agents really need to think more about what they can do to ensure they submit only the best students and applications for consideration.”

Thus, professionalism and trust between agency-institutional partners are becoming more important and barriers to entry for new agents are high. Agents currently working with Australian partners need to build their professional profile, ramp up their brand awareness, provide intelligence back to their institutional partners and stay informed of current global developments.

There is an expectation that SVP will be rolled out to other high quality players, such as TAFEs, which can create two types of institutions: those with access and those without. Evason ponders the future:

“The big question is, when more and more providers have access to the SVP arrangements, can the others survive at all?”

The final segment of our interview explains that from 2013, post-study work rights will be granted to degree-level students who have studied for at least two years in Australia. Gerlach cited, “This is considered to be quite the draw card for Australia.”

As Evason highlights, masters courses of less than two years are not eligible. Additionally, many 2+1 pathway arrangements may be disadvantageous, as these students will graduate with the same degree as others, yet will not have the ability to work. Evason suggests that this could have an impact on curriculum changes.

Australian international education regulations are more stringent than ever, and its student protection rights are unmatched by other nations. In this transition to new regulations, many in the industry will be watching closely to see how new practices and new systems are applied.

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