In welcome news for international students many of whom are stranded offshore due to the coronavirus-induced border restrictions, the federal government has announced a raft of changes to visa arrangements to ensure Australia continues to remain a priority study destination in a post-pandemic world.
Reiterating the importance and contribution of international students to Australia’s economy and social fabric, the Morrison government today announced five major changes that will impact students who are currently in and outside the country.
Announcing the changes, acting minister for immigration, Alan Tudge said the changes will 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,” said Mr Tudge.
- Australia announces five major visa changes to limit the impact of COVID-19 on international students
- The government will recommence granting student visas in all locations lodged outside Australia
- Major post-study work visa changes have also been announced for students stuck offshore
Five visa changes:
Here are the changes that have been announced to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international students -a cohort of visa holders that contribute $40 billion annually and support 250,000 jobs:
- Government to recommence granting student visas to new students offshore: This means when borders will re-open, students will already have visas and they will be able to make arrangements to travel.
- Free-of-charge visa application: 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.
- Online study will be counted towards requirement for post-study work visa: 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.
- Post-study work rights: 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 for providing English language test results: Additional time will be given for applicants to provide English language results where COVID-19 has disrupted access to these services.
Minister Tudge said that the government has been guided by the principles that the health of Australians is key, “but the international students should not be further disadvantaged by COVID-19.”
He, however, did not provide a specific timeline indicating when the international students will be able to return to the country, amid speculations that the pilots initiated by universities across the country have been abandoned.
We are a welcoming nation with a world-class education system and some of the lowest rates of COVID-19 in the world. 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 – Alan Tudge
Reacting to the changes, Melbourne-based migration agent Ranbir Singh said the changes are quite significant and would go a long way in instilling confidence within the students particularly those who are currently blocked out of the country.
"We will experience a flood of offshore student visa grants in the near future as there was quite a bit of backlog due to applications being held in processing due to the COVID-19 lockdowns across the globe. Also allowing applicants to lodge further student visas free of cost is a much-needed relief for students currently facing financial hardships," he said.
Mr Singh added that the government’s decision to grant post-study work visa rights is especially significant for international students, particularly from India as they will now be entitled to work rights after completing their courses despite studying online and remaining offshore.
"Primary applicants are given permission to apply for a post-study work visa from offshore. This is a massive development as this visa could previously only be lodged while the applicant was onshore," he added.
'Not entirely hopeful'
But for Prabhjot Singh, an IT student stranded in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan, who works as a part-time personal care assistant at an aged care in Melbourne, the news is not entirely hopeful.
As one of more than 6,000 international students currently in India, Mr Singh had decided to defer his studies for the semester instead of finishing it online.
“While the changes announced today are massive and in the interest of international students, many of us had deferred our courses hoping to complete them on campus rather than studying online.
“I fear that many of us who decided to defer may have missed out on the golden opportunity that the government has made available today,” said Mr Singh.
Currently, 20 per cent of Australia’s total international students are stuck overseas.
Minister for Education, Dan Tehan said apart from supporting the international education sector that has been hard-hit by the pandemic, the return of international students would also support a number of critical industries.
“Our remarkable efforts in controlling the spread of the virus mean we can begin to welcome back international students in a COVID safe way once state borders re-open and face-to-face learning resumes.
“As well as supporting jobs, international education builds our connection to the rest of the world and supports a number of critical industries like health, aged and disability care,” said Mr Tehan.
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