Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
21st Jul 2020

Australia resumes student visa processing with new measures to strengthen international education sector

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • Australia will resume processing of study visa applications
  • Students who have transitioned to online study outside of Australia due to the pandemic will be able to count that study time towards eligibility for a post-study work visa

The Australian government announced several important developments for student visa processing earlier this week in a bid to "ensure international students are not worse off due to the coronavirus pandemic and that Australia remains competitive with other countries."

First and foremost, Australia will resume processing of student visa applications, meaning that "when borders re-open, students will already have visas and be able to make arrangements to travel."

Also related to visa processing:

  • Students who previously held an Australian study visa but were unable to complete their studies because of the pandemic will also be entitled to file an additional visa application free of charge.
  • Students will be granted additional time to provide English language test results in cases where normal testing services have been disrupted by the pandemic.

The government has also moved to recognise time spent in online studies outside of Australia – in cases where a student's programme of study has transitioned to online delivery because of COVID-19 – towards the requirements of a post-study work visa.

Further, graduates who previously held a student visa will now be able to apply for a post-study work visa from outside of Australia if they are unable to return to the country due to COVID-related travel restrictions.

In its initial release, it was unclear whether or not the government's intention was that this flexibility around work visa eligibility would extend to both current and new students. However, the Department of Home Affairs has since clarified that the measure does indeed apply to both groups.

“These measures back the international education sector – our fourth largest export sector – and will assist its recovery,” said Acting Minister for Immigration Alan Tudge. “In making these changes, we have been guided by the principles that the health of Australians is key, but that international students should not be further disadvantaged by COVID-19."

“We are a welcoming nation with a world-class education system and some of the lowest rates of COVID-19 in the world. Students want to study here and we want to welcome them back in a safe and measured way when it is safe to do so."

Minister for Education Dan Tehan added, “Our remarkable efforts in controlling the spread of the virus mean we can begin to welcome back international students in a COVID safe way once state borders re-open and face-to-face learning resumes.”

Universities Australia welcomed the ministers' announcements. It noted as well that of the 1.4 million students enrolled in the nation's higher education institutions, roughly 29% (or more than 412,000) are international students. “As a result of border closures, around 87,000 of [those international students] remain outside Australia. This proportion will grow as we enter second semester since nearly half of incoming international university students commence their studies in the second half of the year,” said Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson.

Speaking for the Group of Eight leading research universities, Interim Chair Margaret Gardner (also the President and Vice-Chancellor of Monash University) added that, “The Go8 is pleased Government has recognised the need for flexibility around visa settings in the current circumstances...Post COVID-19 it is highly likely Australia will face fierce competition for the best students as the world seeks to rebuild. Australia will need to stay connected to the world and [will need] to access the world’s best skills and expertise to complement our home-grown talent."

As a leading export category, Australia's international education sector contributes an estimated AUS$40 billion in economic impact and supports 250,000 jobs. As we reported recently, current forecasts suggest that Australian universities could be facing financial losses of up to AUS$5 billion this year as a result of the pandemic, with an overall impact of up to AUS$16 billion through 2023.

For additional background, please see:

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