Important changes to student visa requirements
If you’re thinking of applying for study in Australia, you need to be aware of some of the changes introduced by the Australian Government in 2012 that affect student visas and skilled migration. These changes follow the Knight Review — a report that aims to improve Australia’s policies regarding international students.
Earlier in the year, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) made the following changes:
- It announced plans to introduce a post-study work visa, which allows graduates of bachelor, masters and PhDs to work in Australia for up to four years after they graduate.
- It allowed student visa applicants to submit results from the Test of English as a Foreign Language internet-based test (TOEFL iBT), the Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic and the Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) test. Previously, DIAC only accepted IELTS results.
- It allowed prepaid homestay fees to be included in the financial requirements assessment.
- It extended the period of time that PhD students can stay in Australia while their research work is being marked.
- It reduced the financial requirements for Assessment Level 3 and 4 student visa applicants — they will need up to approximately AUD$36,000 less in the bank when applying for a visa.
- It discontinued the pre-visa assessment (PVA) policy for student visa applicants from Assessment Levels 3 and 4 who were enrolling in a bachelor degree or higher qualification.
- It lowered the student visa assessment levels for applicants from some countries.
Other changes will affect the following:
- Visa costs
A non-refundable visa application charge of AUD$535 now applies to most visa applications (previously AUD$565). Fees do not apply to students sponsored under Commonwealth-approved programs, secondary school exchange students or students affected by the closure of their education provider.
- Visa cancellation
The government plans to abolish the policy that sees student visas automatically cancelled for unsatisfactory attendance, unsatisfactory progress and working in excess of the hours allowed. Although students will still risk visa cancellation over these breaches, each student's case will be assessed by DIAC on an individual basis. In line with the Knight Review, this will ensure a fairer process for students who breach visa conditions.
- Visa processing for higher education students
Student visa applicants who lodge their applications with a Confirmation of Enrolment (CoE) from a participating university in Australia at bachelor, masters or doctoral degree level will be assessed as though they are a lower migration risk (similar to the current Assessment Level 1), regardless of their country of origin.
- Permission to work
Students who were granted a student visa on or after 26 April 2008 have automatic work rights — included in the $535 visa application charge. If, however, you were granted a student visa before this date and wish to apply for work rights, this will attract a fee of $75.
- Employment restrictions
Before March 2012, international students were able to work up to a maximum of 20 hours per week. This has been changed to a more flexible 40 hours per fortnight, meaning you can work 15 hours one week and 25 hours the following week, rather than strictly 20 hours per week. Students can begin work once they have commenced a course of study, and limits only apply when their course is in session (students may work unlimited hours during semester breaks). Work limits do not apply to students completing a masters or doctoral degree. See Flexible working conditions for more information.
- Skilled migration visas
As part of DIAC’s reforms to the skilled migration program, three new points-tested skilled migration visa subclasses have been introduced: subclass 189 (skilled independent), subclass 190 (skilled nominated) and subclass 489 (skilled regional — provisional). These three subclasses consolidate the six existing skilled migration visa subclasses — 175, 176, 475, 885, 886 and 487. The location requirements for the above subclasses have been removed, meaning that applicants may be inside or outside of Australia at the time of application. The requirement of recent Australian study or work experience has also been removed, but this still remains a part of the points test. Applicants must complete an online Expression of Interest through DIAC’s new SkillSelect online service (see below).
- Skilled migration process
DIAC has introduced an online service called SkillSelect, which enables skilled workers interested in migrating to Australia to lodge an Expression of Interest (EOI). Once their application is lodged (including their skills and attributes ranked against the points test), intending migrants may be nominated fora skilled visa by Australian employers or government departments, or may be invited to lodge a visa application. Once an invitation is made, you must provide evidence that the information supplied is correct. This service has been designed to address skills shortages and will allow applicants to indicate whether they would like to work in regional areas, where some occupations are experiencing significant shortages. See the SkillSelect website for more information.