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The Knight Review – Australian visa requirements relaxed for international students

The contents of this article are correct as at 11 October 2011.

International student enrolments at Australian Universities have dropped considerably since peaking in 2009, and are now falling at a rate much faster than the total enrolment numbers.

This prompted the Australian government to commission a strategic review of the student visa program on 14 January 2011. The objective of the review, conducted by Mr Michael Knight, was to explain the reason for the decline and provide recommendations for a viable program which will balance Australia's economic, educational, and migration interests.   

Mr Knight’s report, called the Knight Review, was delivered on 30 June 2011 and concluded that the decline in international student enrolments was caused by a range of factors including increased global competition, changes to Australia’s migration settings and a rising Australian dollar.

Mr Knight made 41 recommendations on how to reform the Australian Student visa program.

On 22 September 2011, the government announced that it has accepted all recommendations in the Knight Review, with the majority proposed to come into effect before the second semester of 2012.

The most important changes likely to be implemented are outlined below.

Streamlined visa processing

The government is planning to introduce streamlined visa processing for international students enrolled in Bachelor or certain higher degree courses. These applicants would be treated as though they were a low migration risk, regardless of their country of origin, meaning that the level of evidence they would need to provide in support of their claim for a student visa would be similar to what is required in the current Assessment Level 1. This is the lowest of five levels used by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) to align student visa requirements to the immigration risk posed by applicants from a particular country studying in a particular education sector.

Students who bundle non-university courses with an eligible Australian university course – including non-award courses – would also be able to access the abovementioned arrangements.

Students would however still have to satisfy finances and English language requirements, although they would not have the same evidentiary burdens that are currently applicable in the higher risk migration categories. All applicants would also still have to fulfil basic requirements, such as having health insurance and not being a security or health risk.

Further simplification

The government will further simplify the student visa application procedure and the processing of student visas. This would be achieved by:

  1. Allowing prepaid homestay fees to be included in the financial requirements assessment for a student visa
  2. Ceasing DIAC’s Pre-Visa Assessment (PVA) policy which requires education providers to receive a PVA letter from DIAC before they can issue a confirmation of enrolment to Assessment Level 3 and Assessment Level 4 students from outside Australia 
  3. Granting student visas up to four months before the start of the course 
  4. Regularly updating the living cost component of student visa financial requirements

Genuine Temporary Entrant criterion

A new genuine temporary entrant (GTE) criterion will be introduced for all student visa applications in order to determine whether an applicant’s true intention is to stay temporarily in Australia to study and then return home. Aspects that may be considered in a GTE assessment may include:

  • Circumstances in the applicant’s home country
  • The applicant’s potential circumstances in Australia
  • The applicant's immigration history
  • The value of the course to the applicant’s future

Work rights while on a student visa

It has been proposed that Masters by research and doctoral degree students (subclass 574) and their dependants would have unlimited work rights while on a student visa.

Work rights for students (and their dependants) not enrolled in degree courses mentioned above will be increased – from 20 hours per week during the term once the course has commenced, and unlimited hours when the course is not in session – to 40 hours per fortnight during any fortnight in the course session.

Access to a work visa after completion of studies

It has been suggested that University graduates who have completed a Bachelor degree or Masters by coursework in Australia should have access to a two year post-study work visa, and that graduates who have completed a Masters by research or PhD degree should have access to a post-study work visa for three or four years respectively.  

In order to be eligible for any of these visas the applicant would however need to have obtained the relevant degree within the last six months of date of application and would also have to meet English language, health, character and security requirements as well as provide evidence of adequate health insurance for the duration of the visa. It is also likely that the visa applicant would be required to have studied in Australia for a minimum period of time.

Applicants who have access to any of the work visas described in this section would not have to nominate an occupation on the Skilled Occupation List or undertake a skills assessment.

Automatic cancellation repealed

The automatic cancellation and mandatory cancellation provisions for student visas would be removed under the new student visa program. The new process would allow DIAC decision-makers to consider all relevant facts when deciding whether or not a student visa should be cancelled, which will result in a fairer outcome.

Other important changes                      

Some of the other important changes proposed under the new visa program include:

  1. Allowing English language students to apply for a visa without satisfying minimum English skills requirements first

  2. Establishing an Education Visa Consultative Committee with the purpose of improving information flow between the Australian Government and the international education sector
  3. A fundamental review of the Student Visa risk management framework, the Assessment Levels, to report by mid-2012

If you have any questions concerning this article, please click this link to contact Visa Lawyers Australia.