Monday, April 4, 2011

Australian student visa

Australian gov't moves to change student visa program amid downturn

Amid falling numbers of international students and a turbulent past two years for the international education sector, the Australian government was urged to reform its international student visa program to curb the downturn of overseas students.

Indrajeet Chauhan, the international students' officer of the peak body representing Australia's university students -- the National Union of Students -- said on Monday it was time the federal government took some actions to reverse the trend of the fall of international students.

He blamed the frequent and unclear changes in immigration policies and tough permanent residency requirements for the reduction of the foreign students in Australia.

International students in Australia about to finish their studies and apply for permanent residency are often confused and dismayed due to the changeable immigration policies, he told Xinhua in an interview.

He said the foreign students who did not get permanent residency or whose applications have been delayed are considering or have already left Australia.

This experience has been shared through word-of-mouth in the home countries of these students, which has resulted in lower numbers of international students coming to Australia, he said.

International student visa applications dropped 18.9 percent between the 2008-09 and 2009-10 program years, according to official figures from the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship. In the six months to 31 December 2010, there were 129, 632 international student visa applications received, compared with 152,393 applications lodged in the corresponding period in 2009-10.

Glenn Withers, the Chief Executive Officer of the peak body representing Australia's universities, Universities Australia, echoed the view of Chauhan by saying the problems were largely of the government's own making.

Withers stressed the Immigration Department should not be scared of people being able to migrate to Australia and changing rules to prevent it.

"People have a right to the same rules for the entire duration of their study. Changing the rules midway is not Australian, it's just not fair. Change the rules for new applicants. For your basic original commitment for which your visa was awarded, it is only right to have the same conditions throughout the period of study for which the visa was awarded," he said.

Facing pressure from both foreign students and domestic educational institutions, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has promised to take actions to end potential abuse of student pathways leading to permanent residency in Australia.

"The government remains committed to recent reforms to improve the integrity of the student visa program and sharpen the focus of the skilled migration program on high value occupations," a spokesman from the department said the other day.

"The government agrees that it is now time to take a fundamental, whole-of-government look at the student visa program, " he said.

The government has appointed former Sydney Olympics Minister Michael Knight to undertake a review of the student visa program and make recommendations, he added, which is expected to be welcome by many overseas students who hope to apply for the permanent residence after completing their study in Australia.

There are more than 400,000 international students in Australia currently, generating about 18 billion U.S. dollars to the nation.

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