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Australia plans 'significant' visa changes to limit COVID-19 impact on international students

Whether you were caught inside or outside of the country the impact of COVID-19 on immigration is huge. Source: SBS

In the latest update, the Department of Home Affairs has said the Australian government is closely working with universities to safeguard the interests of the international students currently in Australia and those who have been stranded offshore because of the coronavirus-induced border closure.

The federal government is expected to announce changes to its post-study work visa program to retain international students who may be granted work rights after graduating despite completing their degrees online and remaining in their home countries.

In response to SBS Punjabi’s query on the expected visa changes, a spokesperson for the Department said: “We want to ensure we remain a preferred international study destination.”


  • The Australian government is working to limit the impacts of COVID-19 on international students
  • The government may announce visa changes to safeguard the interests of international students
  • Overseas students to be granted post-study working rights as per the proposed plan

Government is working closely with universities to try and limit the impacts of COVID-19 on international students who are in Australia and those who can’t travel because our international borders are closed: Home Affairs spokesperson

“We are guided by the principle that students should not be disadvantaged by the impacts of COVID-19," said the spokesperson.

Australian Visa
Australian government mulls visa changes to ensure international students are not disadvantaged by the impacts of the pandemic.

What is the post-study work visa?

As the name suggests, the visa subclass 485 is for international students who have completed 2 years of study in Australia. It can last from between 18 months and 4 years depending on the situation and lets successful applicants to live, work and study in Australia, temporarily.

According to the current policy, international students must be physically present in Australia for at least 16 calendar months to complete their study to be eligible for this subclass.

Migration agent Ranbir Singh said it’s a "sought-after visa" for many international students who complete their graduate or postgraduate degree.

“The Post Study Work Stream visa is a highly sought-after visa amongst international graduates who wish to extend their stay down under for gaining local work experience or working on a pathway towards their permanent residency,” said Mr Singh.

“We want to ensure Australia remains a preferred international study destination," says Home Affairs

What are the proposed changes?

Under the proposal being considered by the federal government, international students may be granted work rights after completing their courses despite studying online and remaining offshore reported The Australian.

Explaining the changes that could be announced in the coming weeks, Canberra-based migration lawyer Ben Watt said if and when they are announced, these changes would be significant for students who have been forced to study online due to the pandemic.

“What the department has said through various channels quite recently is they are going to count online study and there is going to be some sort of a facility so that students do not miss out on graduate visa if they are stuck overseas six-months after the completion of their course,” he said.

Mr Watt, however, cautioned that while these proposed changes will benefit students currently completing their degrees online, it, is, however, not clear how the Department will implement these changes for students who are stranded offshore.

“On the policy level, the Department can change the way they interpret the eligibility criteria for students currently in Australia.  But for others, the government will need to table a regulation to allow students to apply for this visa while they are offshore,” he added.

Currently, 20 per cent of Australia’s total international students are stuck overseas.

Migration agent Ranbir Singh who is “cautiously hopeful,” said the release of the relaxation in criteria for a post-study work visa would be a big relief for those outside the country anxious about their future at a time when the Australian states are delaying their pilot plans to welcome back international students.

“This will be a welcome move in these unprecedented times and a big relief for international students stuck overseas. If announced, the relaxation of visa criteria will also send a strong message to the international graduates that Australia values its overseas students,” he added.

The government is also expected to include fee waivers or concessions for students unable to leave the country due to the border closure or absence of international flights.

Indian-origin student Karan Singh Panwar has recently cancelled his enrolment with a prestigious Melbourne-based university after the education provider switched to remote learning for the first three semesters.

The 24-year-old student who had dreams to build a life in Australia said he was forced to change his plan because he had not paid a premium fee to study online.

“I had come to Australia to study to live the on-campus experience. I would have chosen distant learning had I wanted to study remotely. Staying here and enduring living expenses just to study online isn’t something that I had signed up for,” said Mr Panwar.

A snapshot of cancellation of Mr Panwar's enrolment.

Mr Panwar is one of many international students who have been left wondering whether it is worth if the travel ban continues to keep them away from campus- a pattern that peak body Universities Australia has estimated may cause a $16 billion dent in revenue over the next three years.

Disclaimer: This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. 

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. 

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