A new “simplified” visa processing regime is causing catastrophic delays to processing overseas student applications and a big spike in visa rejections, causing universities and English-language colleges to postpone courses and threatening the viability of the $18.5 billion export sector.
Education providers say that thousands of overseas students, particularly from China, have been caught up in the new system, introduced on July 1.
The delays are not only causing education institutions financial stress but threatening longstanding partnerships, and putting at risk a prestigious scholarship program through which China sends abroad 6000 of its best postgraduates each year.
The Chinese Scholarship Council is so concerned about the delays it is recommending students approved for postgraduate study in Australia seek other host countries, said Australian Council of Graduate Research executive officer Fiona Zammitt.
Brett Blacker, executive director of peak group English Australia, which represents English-language colleges, described the current delays and punitive rejections regime as a crisis. “We have members who have hundreds of students waiting for their visas,” Mr Blacker said. “A lot of these students are set to study English courses, then move into foundation courses and degree programs. The knock-on effect of the delays mean they will miss the start date for their next intake.”
The University of NSW is one institution struggling with the delays. Vice president, international, Fiona Docherty, said the university had 350 students due to start next week still awaiting visa approvals. “We’ve had a 50 per cent increase in applications this year, which is a good problem to have, but delays in processing is not good for our reputation,” Ms Docherty said.
Mr Blacker said the main issue appeared to be with applications from China, which supplies about more than a quarter of all overseas students. Last year there were 645,200 enrolments by full-fee paying international students in Australia on student visas, representing almost a 10 per cent increase on 2014. Education for overseas students is Australia’s third-largest export industry after coal and iron ore, bringing at least $18.5 billion into the country.
Mr Blacker said the simplified system was wantonly complex and lacking in nuance, applying the same criteria to very low-risk students from Japan, for example, as to high-risk applications from Nepal or Pakistan. Ms Zammitt said she was aware of visa applicants waiting nine months for a response.
A Department of Immigration and Border Control spokesman acknowledged changes to the visa system had triggered the backlog. He said the department aimed to finalise 75 per cent of complete applications within a month. He said the department would prioritise visa applications lodged more than a month ago. Students arriving in Australia can generally start study on a bridging visa.
Article Via: theaustralian