Australia simplifies student visa procedures

18 June, 2015

Australia will introduce a simplified single immigration risk framework for all international students and reduce the number of student visa subclasses from eight to two, following an announcement by Minister for Education and Training, Christopher Pyne, and Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Michaelia Cash, this week.


The changes, due to come into effect in July 2016, will herald the end of streamlined visa processing (SVP), which since 2012 has provided enhanced visa procedures for universities and, subsequently, limited numbers of private sector higher education and advanced diploma providers.  

The simplified student visa framework (SSVF) will replace both SVP and the current Assessment Level Framework for non-SVP providers, and will apply to all international students. A student’s financial and English language evidentiary requirements will be based on the immigration profile of their country and of their chosen education provider.

“The SSVF will support the growth of the international education sector by enhancing both competitiveness and integrity while extending streamlined visa processing to all education sectors and all course types,” said Minister Cash. “SVP served a very good purpose but now it is time to implement a broader, simpler, fairer framework.”

Department for Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP)  estimates that around 15 per cent more international students may have access to reduced evidentiary requirements compared with the current framework.

Other elements of the new policy recommendations include the removal of the requirements for providers to opt-in to access streamlined arrangements. The new regulations will also take away formal business partner arrangements and instead enable providers to package courses with any other provider providing preliminary programmes.

Evaluating the impact of SVP since its introduction in a report, DIBP said the higher education sector had experienced higher growth in the student visa grants since 2012, and that SVP providers had a visa grant rate on average around 10 per cent higher than non-SVP providers – 96.1 per cent compared with 85.4 per cent in 2013/14.

However, DIBP said industry stakeholder feedback has indicated SVP was not sustainable in its present format and that there were challenges in the system.

The number of movements from higher education to VET courses – so called ‘course hopping’ – has increased after SVP: there were 3,720 movements in 2014, compared with 1,735 in 2012. Around 60 per cent of university respondents to a DIBP survey said the number of non-genuine students seeking enrolment had risen since 2012.

Industry figures said that although SVP had created a perception of quality and facilitated a focus on quality students, it also fostered market inequality and misconceptions. “Stakeholders reported that among some students and education agents there appears to be the erroneous perception that SVP represents Australian government approval of a course or a provider rather than the provider’s achievement of lower immigration risk,” said DIBP.

“Any new visa framework that removes the complexity of our current system is welcome,” said Phil Honeywood, Chief Executive of International Education Association of Australia (IEAA). “While SVP has been beneficial, it is unsustainable in the long term. It has created a dichotomy between the ‘haves and have not’ providers and has a high administration cost.” The average expense per provider in administering SVP arrangements was estimated by DIBP at AUS$249,300 (US$194,200).

Sue Blundell, Executive Director of English Australia, said, “Since the introduction of SVP in 2012, English Australia has continued to communicate our concerns regarding the negative impact on the English language sector and the fact that the SVP model was just not sustainable in the long term,” said Ms Blundell.  “We are delighted that the Department has listened to our concerns and that the government has accepted the recommendations to establish a new framework  which will make it easier for genuine students to apply for a visa to study with high-quality, low-risk education providers.”
DIBP said the role of agents was one of the key factors in the drafting of the new regulations. It said it was essential that any alternative framework was easily understood by all involved. “This includes prospective students, education providers, agents and Department officers making decisions on visa applications.” 

Universities Australia Deputy Chief Executive, Anne-Marie Lansdown, said SVP had allowed universities to compete unhindered by lengthy visa processes, but welcomed the new arrangements. “We support a risk-managed approach to the student visa regime that rewards low-risk providers with access to simpler visa processes for their students.” However, she cautioned that it was imperative universities were not penalised for operating in new markets where immigration risks were less well known.

A working group has been established to guide implementation of the new framework before SVP expires on June 30, 2016, including agreeing risk thresholds. Honeywood said, “As somebody appointed to the working group of this new student visa framework, I look forward to ensuring that all stakeholders are factored into the final outcomes. We must be careful to ensure the quality reputation of Australia is not compromised through a simplified framework.”

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