Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
3rd Apr 2024

Australia: Record-high foreign enrolment but tighter immigration settings now taking hold

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • More than 700,000 international students are studying in Australia now, a record high
  • Actions now being taken by the Australian government will also certainly bring this number down over the next year
  • Visa applications are declining, refusal rates are skyrocketing, and the Australian education sector is predicting over AUS$300 million in lost revenues for 2024
  • A rigorous new “Genuine Student” test is now being used by immigration officials and prospective students need higher English-language scores to be considered

The Australian government has further increased its scrutiny of international student applicants in an effort to ensure incoming students have “genuine” intentions to study (rather than work) and have sufficient English-language proficiency to succeed in their courses with Australian education providers.

Australia’s international student population reached 713,145 as of February 2024, a record high. However, immigration officials have become much more likely to reject new student visa applicants amid the surge. More than 50,000 international students had their visa applications rejected from November 2023 to February 2024. Many students – aware of the higher likelihood of being refused – are choosing to apply elsewhere. The Economic Times reports that there has been a “decrease in visa applications for the first time in over two years,” and Australian Education Department data show that student visa arrivals were down by 8 percentage points in January 2024 versus January 2023.

New test introduced to judge whether prospective students have “genuine” intentions

The previously administered Genuine Temporary Entrant (GTE) test has been eliminated and in its stead is a “Genuine Student (GS)” requirement. This is in effect now and has been in place for all student applications lodged on or after 23 March 2024. This test, says the government, “asks students to answer questions about their study intentions and their economic circumstances, with a declaration to be made that they understand what it means to be a genuine student.”

Specifically, applicants must now fill in the following sections on their online visa application, for a maximum of 150 words (in English) per question area.

  • “[Details of] their current circumstances. This includes ties to family, community, employment, and economic circumstances.
  • [Reasons they] wish to study this course in Australia with this particular education provider, including “their understanding of the requirements of the intended course and studying and living in Australia.”
  • [Explanation of why] completing the course will be of benefit to them.
  • Details of any other relevant information they would like to include."

Applicants who have previously held a student visa are asked an additional question. All applicants “must attach supporting documents to their ImmiAccount.” The evidence required is explained in this official government release.

Higher English scores required

Students will now have to achieve a score of IELTS 6.0 and, for graduate visas, IELTS 6.5, to be considered for an Australian study visa. The previous required scores had been 5.5 and 6.0. This change occurs as a result of the Migration Review (conducted in 2023 and leading into the new immigration settings) finding that “student English language requirements may not set up students to succeed.”

Providers deemed “highest-risk” will receive warning notices

In the next few weeks, the government will start to act on its previously stated plan to crack down on education providers it believes are at the highest risk of non-compliance with immigration rules. A related statement from the Department of Home Affairs says:

“In coming weeks, the highest risk providers – otherwise known as ghost colleges and visa factories - will be issued with warning notices. They’ll be given 6 months to get their act together, if not, they’ll be suspended from recruiting international students.”

Are these good or negative trends?

In answer, the Australian government would say “good,” while many international education stakeholders would say the opposite.

Commenting on the changes that took effect in March, Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security Clare O’Neil said:

“Since September, the Government’s actions have led to substantial declines in migration levels, with recent international student visa grants down by 35% on the previous year. The actions this weekend will continue to drive migration levels down while delivering on our commitments in the Migration Strategy to fix the broken system we inherited.”

But 16 university chancellors have sounded the alarm on how damaging the government’s actions will be to the sector. They wrote a letter in February 2024 to Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil and Education Minister Jason Clare saying that the new government stance on international education will cost their institutions AUS$310 million in 2024 alone.

As reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, signatories to the letter included chancellors representing Victoria University, Federation University, Western Sydney University, the University of Wollongong, the University of Newcastle, the University of New England, and the University of Southern Queensland. The chancellors wrote:

“Given the ongoing recovery from the impacts of COVID-19, this situation is particularly alarming,” they wrote. The 16 institutions endorsing this letter conservatively estimate a collective revenue downturn of approximately $310 million in 2024 alone, akin to the impact of the pandemic. The consequences outlined have far-reaching implications, potentially jeopardising Australia’s brand as a preferred study destination and presenting significant financial threats to affected universities, especially as they continue to recover from the impacts of the past several years.”

University of Central Queensland vice chancellor Nick Klomp added:

“The situation is now urgent, with university semesters about to commence and thousands of genuine student visa applications – and a $29 billion export industry – hanging in the balance. Australian universities are uniformly world-class; we need to level the playing field to ensure all Australian public universities receive priority processing of genuine international students.”

For additional background, please see:

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