Australia issues visa switch warning

06 February, 2014

The Australian government has launched a media campaign to advise international students that “course hopping” from a university to another provider may invalidate their visas. The move comes as government student visa data provides further evidence of Australia’s international education recovery.

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The media campaign has been launched after concerns raised that students could enrol at a university through the streamlined visa processing (SVP) arrangements, which were introduced in March 2012, and then transfer to a private or lower-level provider that does not have SVP. Only a very limited number of non-university providers have been granted SVP to date.

Under SVP, students from countries that are considered “high risk” for other visa categories are classified as the lowest immigration risk when applying to university. As such, for some students it is potentially easier to get a visa for university study and then switch to a cheaper educational programme. Universities have expressed concerns over the practice, as they remain accountable for the immigration risk.

The Immigration Department is believed to have recently contacted over 1,400 international students warning that they may be in breach of their visas after switching to non-SVP providers. Some students may be completely unaware of SVP and its implications.

A dedicated page about changing courses on the Immigration Department website states, “If you were granted a visa under the streamlined visa processing arrangements, you must stay enrolled in a streamlined visa processing eligible course with an education provider participating in the arrangements.”

The advice further states, “If you enrol in a course (or package of courses) that is not eligible for streamlined visa processing, you no longer meet the criteria for which your visa was granted and may be considered for visa cancellation.”

Meanwhile, the most recent student visa quarterly update from the Immigration Department has confirmed the strengthening recovery of Australia’s international education sector, with offshore applications increasing by 27.6 per cent in the July to September 2013 quarter, compared with the same period in the previous year. With the exception of the peak year of 2009-10, visa applications are at their highest ever rate.

The increase was to a large extent driven by a 42.1 per cent rise in higher education applications. Offshore applications for Elicos study were up by 12 per cent, and the VET sector will be encouraged by a slight increase in offshore applications.

Further evidence of recovery was signalled by an announcement from Australia-based global provider Navitas of a 19 per cent increase in revenue to AUS$412.9 million (US$369.9 million) in the six months to December 2013. The revenue increase was attributed to enrolment growth in the company’s University Programs Division in Australia, the UK and the USA.

Rod Jones, Chief Executive Officer of Navitas, said, “The FY14 interim results demonstrate the recovery taking place across much of the group, but in particular the University Programs Division, following ongoing improvement in new student enrolments over the last year.”

However, company net profits rose only three per cent to AUS$36.1 million (US$32.3 million). “As previously flagged, group revenues are increasing strongly, but earnings have been impacted by significant investment in systems and people we invest in for future growth,” said Jones.

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