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Australian visa data indicates continued recovery through first half of 2022

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Driven by strong returning numbers from key sending markets – including India, China, and Nepal – the process of rebuilding Australia’s foreign enrolment continues this year
  • Overall, the number of active visa holders (both within and outside of Australia) has returned to roughly 80% of pre-pandemic levels as of May 2022

A just-released report from Australia’s Department of Home Affairs provides some important updates on the country’s student visa programme.

Of the roughly 230,000 student visas granted so far in 2021/22, just under 40% have been issued to students from the four leading countries for students returning to Australia during the period 22 November 2021 through 22 May 2022:

  • India 34,035
  • China 25,689
  • Nepal 18,889
  • Vietnam 7,172

More broadly, student visa lodgements reached a high of 473,415 in 2018/19 and then dipped to 262,633 in 2020/21. Visa application volumes surged back in 2021/22 to reach 314,388 as of 22 May 2022.

The important dates to note here are that the Australian government’s fiscal year ends on 30 June (that is, the current reporting year is almost complete); however, Australia’s borders only reopened to international students on 15 December 2021 after an extended closure during the pandemic. In other words, the return volumes we see noted here reflect the numbers of students travelling to the country between mid-December 2021 and May 2022.

We see a similar pattern for Chinese visa applicants (total visa applications lodged) over this same period: there were 91,296 visa applications from Chinese students in 2018/19, dipping to 52,041 in 2020/21, and then to 55,601 through 22 May 2022. This year-to-date volume for 2021/22 represents roughly 60% of the pre-pandemic volume for Chinese student visa applications.

In contrast, Indian applicants have returned to 64% of pre-pandemic volumes (57,635 year-to-date for 2021/22 as opposed to 89,868 in 2018/19), and applications from Nepalese students have reached 90% of pre-COVID levels (39,066 year-to-date for 2021/22 compared to 43,190 in 2018/19).

Visas granted

A similar trend is playing out with respect to the total number of visas granted. Starting from a high point of 405,742 in 2018/19, visa grants fell to 232,750 in 2020/21, and have now reached 56% of pre-pandemic levels with 228,150 visas granted year-to-date in 2021/22.

As of 19 June 2022, there were a total of 469,306 Australian student visa holders globally. Roughly three-quarters of that total (354,475 students) were in Australia, with the balance (114,831) currently based outside of the country. Those students outside of Australia are eligible to travel if fully vaccinated.

This overall volume compares to the 578,000 student visa holders reported by the Australian government as of October 2019 – a number which fell to a low of 266,000 in October 2021. Put another way, the total pool of active student visas for Australia has now recovered to roughly 80% of pre-pandemic levels as of May 2022.

Clearing the backlog

The Department of Home Affairs acknowledges that it continues to grapple with a significant processing backlog. The current processing benchmarks for student visas are updated regularly on the department’s website, and currently indicate that 75% of student visa applications are finalised within six to ten weeks, with some outliers (notably post-graduate research and VET) requiring several months to process on average.

In response, the department outlines several measures it has take in order to reduce processing times:

  • Student visa staff continue to process visas over weekends and public holidays.
  • The department has added new processing staff.
  • Other staff resources have been diverted to boost the processing capacity in the student visa programme.
  • Home Affairs has also signalled that incomplete applications (e.g., those lodged without all mandatory documentation required; such as evidence of adequate health insurance or evidence of funds) will now be finalised (i.e., rejected) without asking the applicants to provide further information: “Applicants should ensure that they include all relevant documents when lodging their visa application. The application form in ImmiAccount tells applicants what documents to attach.”

For additional background, please see:

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