Streamlined visas for colleges and TAFE

At a COAG meeting today, it was agreed to bring forward the implementation of the “revised framework for low immigration risk providers”, giving some colleges access to “streamlined” student visa assessments from the second half of this year.

Industry groups have welcomed the announcement, which removes visa processing impediments for these colleges up to six months earlier than had been anticipated.

The new approach means international students seeking visas to study at colleges deemed low-risk will be treated as coming from ‘level 1 risk assessment’ countries. This vastly reduces their waiting time for visas, and scales back onerous requirements to prove that they have plenty of money to cover their expenses in Australia.

Some of Australia’s top markets for international education, including India and China, are treated as high-risk level 3 or 4 countries, making it much harder for their students to obtain visas – particularly Indians, whose rejection rates are up to 60 per cent.

The “streamlined” arrangements, which were recommended last September by the Knight review of student visas, reduce the obstacles for visa applicants but ramp up providers’ obligation to ensure they only accept genuine students.

Universities gained access to the streamlined system this month. But TAFEs and private colleges had been told they wouldn’t be included until next year, even if they were deemed low risk, placing them at a competitive disadvantage against universities.

Tertiary education minister Chris Evans has since indicated that the extension to non-universities could be brought forward. The Australian Council for Private Education and Training said it was “delighted” that this had now been confirmed.

CEO Claire Field credited lobbying from the NSW and Victorian governments as well as industry groups, but said the federal government needed to go further. “The next step is to introduce post-study work rights for students at the best public and private vocational training providers,” she said.

The peak English language college group, English Australia, said the COAG communiqué’s reference to international education signalled that governments had recognised the seriousness of the decline in international enrolments over the last 30 months.

Executive Director Sue Blundell said she hoped the revised visa assessment framework would be “genuinely inclusive of all types of providers”, so that English language colleges had “some chance of seeing a turnaround”.

The International Education Association of Australia also welcomed the development, but said the government needed to tread carefully to avoid rekindling the problems the international education industry had experienced four or five years ago.

“The government only has one chance to ensure that the criteria for inclusion are appropriate,” said executive director Phil Honeywood.

“There’s been a philosophical push particularly from the coalition state governments to ensure that private providers are given more of an equal playing field, but at the end of the day the commonwealth government is the gatekeeper.

“It’s taken years to build up our high quality education reputation. That was lost to a large extent over the last few years and we need to regain it, so a comprehensive system for guaranteeing low-risk providers has to be assured.”

The Immigration Department is still reviewing the criteria for determining low-risk providers. Mr Honeywood said he expected a staged approach, with TAFEs and well-established private colleges the first admitted to the new system.

Category: Australian Visas
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