Visa reform could boost university enrollments

Date: Sep 23, 2011

A new report has spurred action from official bodies to help fast-track the applications of international students wishing to study and work in Australia.

Prepared by former NSW politician Michael Knight, the paper has been described as being 'remarkably frank' by a number of publications in its appraisal of the current restrictions applied to university applicants from overseas.

Immigration minister Chris Bowen and tertiary education minister Chris Evans have both expressed their resolve to implement the report's findings.

Bowen said he was aware that educational institutions felt the market had become uncompetitive and sluggish when compared to other nations.

"They were wanting to make sure our visa system was allowing them to compete on an equal basis," said Evans.

"The education sector is the third largest export industry Australia has. We've grown it into a major economic sector of the Australian economy; it employs tens of thousands of people and generates income for Australia, so it's a very important industry as well as being important to the education sector."

In an attempt to help rally the industry and boost its competitive edge, Evans and Bowen announced several changes to current migration practices.

One of the main points of contention was that students from so-called "high-risk" countries previously had to demonstrate they were able to support themselves by proving they had at least $75,000 in a single bank account.

The result was that many students were no longer willing to meet the criteria and looked to other international providers for their tertiary education - reducing the amount of money brought into the Australian economy by ten per cent.

Under the new system foreign students will simply have to declare that they are able to support themselves by showing a savings balance of $36,000 - a considerable difference to the previous requirement.

Immigration lawyers can provide an upfront assessment of the new requirements, potentially minimising the expenses associated with repeated applications.

New incentives have also been supplied in the form of post-study work visas which will allow students who gain a bachelor to stay and work in any job in Australia for two years - with provisions to extend this to four years in the case of PhD candidates.

The application process for study visas have also been streamlined, with the report suggesting a special fast-track system be put in place.

However, international students who are serious about studying in Australia may benefit from the advice of a migration lawyer rather than an unaccredited source of legal advice.