International students contribute AUD$40 billion annually and support 250,000 jobs. However, as a result of border closures due to the coronavirus crisis, around 87,000 (or 22%) of university students remain outside Australia.
“Students want to study here and we want to welcome them back in a safe and measured way”
The latest announcement by acting immigration minister, Alan Tudge, comes as part of five measures aimed at keeping international students in Australia amid concerns some won’t return once the pandemic subsides.
The changes include:
The government will recommence granting student visas in all locations lodged outside Australia. This means when borders re-open, students will already have visas and be able to make arrangements to travel.
International students will be able to lodge a further student visa application free of charge, if they are unable to complete their studies within their original visa validity due to Covid-19.
Current student visa holders studying online outside Australia due to Covid-19 will be able to use that study to count towards the Australian study requirement for a post-study work visa.
Graduates who held a student visa will be eligible to apply for a post-study work visa outside Australia if they are unable to return due to Covid-19.
Additional time will be given for applicants to provide English language results where Covid-19 has disrupted access to these services.
Tudge said the changes provide assurance to international students already in Australia and those who haven’t been able to travel due to Covid-19 border closures.
“These measures back the international education sector – our fourth-largest export sector – and will assist its recovery,” Tudge said.
“In making these changes, we have been guided by the principles that the health of Australians is key, but international students should not be further disadvantaged by Covid-19.
“Students want to study here and we want to welcome them back in a safe and measured way when it is safe to do so.”
Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, said the changes would give international students confidence in their visa arrangements so they can make plans to study in Australia when it is safe to do so.
The Australian government has previously relaxed work restrictions for international students working in the health, aged and disability care sectors during the pandemic.
Responding to the announcement CEO of English Australia, Brett Blacker, said visa changes, particularly fee waivers, have been a key component of the sector’s advocacy efforts with government over the last few months.
“It is fantastic to see the government make these changes, sending a clear message that Australia supports international students,” he said.
Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia also welcomed the announcement, particularly the change that will allow international students to lodge a further student visa application free of charge if they are unable to complete their studies within their original visa validity due to Covid-19.
“ITECA has consistently advocated for this measure that will allow international students to continue their studies within Australia without an additional cost,” said Troy Williams, ITECA chief executive.
He said a significant change will permit current student visa holders to study online outside Australia due to Covid-19, and enable them to use that study to count towards the Australian study requirement for a post-study work visa.
“New, as well as current, students should be included in the amended arrangements for post-study work rights”
“ITECA, along with other stakeholders, had argued for this as a pathway that will allow international students to commence their studies online as a pathway for future study within Australia,” he added.
However, while Universities Australia chief executive, Catriona Jackson, acknowledged the “sensible” changes for existing international students would provide certainty for their future plans in Australia, “we need to understand what the changes mean for prospective students”.
“We believe that new, as well as current, students should be included in the amended arrangements for post-study work rights. It is not clear that this is the case, and we continue to seek confirmation of this important point,” she noted.
“Many new students will be adversely affected by Covid-19, and they should be treated the same as continuing students.”
As a result of the pandemic, Australian universities face an estimated $16 billion black hole due to the drop in international student numbers, further compounded by warnings from China that the country is unwelcoming and unsafe.