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19th Jun 2024

Australia: Study visa grants down nearly a third through April 2024

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • The latest data release from the Australian government reveals that study visa grants to offshore applicants dropped by nearly a third in the first four months of 2024
  • This compares to a just-over-50% decline at the low point in the pandemic
  • The decline can be traced to more restrictive migration settings and a higher threshold for approving visa applications
  • Study visa approval rates are considerably below historical norms for the first months of the year with the ELICOS and VET sectors especially hard hit

Data from Australia's Department of Home Affairs shows that study visa grants are down significantly for the first four months of 2024. There were a total of 74,421 study visas granted to offshore applicants from January through April of this year, a nearly -30% decline (-29.1%) from 104,808 granted in the same period in 2023.

To put the overall decline for the first four months of this year in context, that compares to a -53% drop in visas granted to offshore students between 2019/20 and 2020/21 as the pandemic took hold.

The vocational education and training (VET) and language training (ELICOS) sectors have been especially hard hit so far this year, recording -69% and -56% declines in visa grants respectively. Except for the pandemic period, that marks the lowest levels of visa grants for both sectors for a decade or more. The two sectors combined accounted for nearly two-thirds (61%) of the total decline in visa grants for the January-April period this year.

Those data points provide a concrete indication of the immediate-term effects of new migration settings introduced by the Australian government in December 2023. That was the beginning of a period of related announcements aimed at restricting student migration in recent months, including an increase in minimum funds requirements, the established of a cap on international enrolments (to be implemented in January 2025), and, most recently, new measures to prevent onshore students from transitioning among visa classes.

From January onward, there have been increasing reports of rising rejection rates, and calls for greater transparency in visa processing. In short, in the wake of the new migration settings prospective students must now prove a higher level of savings, a higher level of English proficiency, and otherwise pass a “Genuine Student Test.”

Those heightened requirements are reflected as well in the latest Department of Home Affairs data set, which indicates that – again for offshore applicants for the period January-April 2024 – that overall approval rates fell to 77.4% compared to 80.5% the year prior. This is an incomplete but still important indicator of tightening visa requirements during the early months when those new policy settings were taking hold.

To put that in context, the Home Affairs data set captures the years from 2005/06 through 2024/25. Except for those first four months of this year, the overall approval rate for offshore applicants has never dipped below 80%. Over the 18 years leading up to this year, the average approval rate was just under 90%.

Picking up on the significant impact for the ELICOS and VET sectors that we noted earlier, their approval rates dropped to 74.8% and 37.8% respectively. Outside of the pandemic years, that represents historically low approval rates for both. "[The] ELICOS-only grant rate has fallen to record lows," says a recent analysis from English Australia. "Colombian ELICOS-only grants for offshore applications was 32% for the first two months of 2024. In 2023, it was 95% and the 10-year average was 86%."

Commenting on the recent series of policy announcements, Troy Williams, the chief executive of the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA), said, "Just as many quality skills training and higher education providers are just beginning to recover from the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated border closures, the Australian Government's approach to international student visa approvals threatens the commercial sustainability of these organisations. There will be job losses that can be directly attributed to Australian Government policy."

An earlier statement from Universities Australia's Chief Executive Officer Luke Sheehy adds that, "Decades of careful and strategic work by universities and the Government has seen Australia grow to be a leading provider of international education. We can’t let this work go to waste."

“The sector contributed AUS$48 billion to the economy last year, accounting for over half of Australia’s economic growth and supporting the vital work our universities do on behalf of all Australians. Stability and growth in the sector is essential for our prosperity and to ensure universities can meet the nation’s skills needs and continue helping the Government to deliver national priorities."

For additional background, please see:

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