Australia's Visa Crackdown Disrupts International Students and University Finances

Australia's Visa Crackdown Disrupts International Students and University Finances

Australia's tightened visa policies have led to a record high proportion of offshore student visa applications being refused, with up to one in five students having their visas rejected in the year to March, according to the latest home affairs data. The crackdown has significantly impacted students from India, Nepal, and Pakistan, with visa grants falling by 48%, 53%, and 55%, respectively, between December 2022 and December 2023.

The Department of Home Affairs attributes the higher refusal rates and longer processing times to an increase in incomplete applications and fraudulent documentation. In response to the tougher visa conditions, some institutions have changed their policies, with Central Queensland University imposing blanket bans on Indian and Nepalese students enrolling in English language programs or applicants over 25 or married, except for research placements.

The visa crackdown has had a significant financial impact on universities and disrupted the plans of genuine students who may be deterred from studying in Australia altogether. Zeeshan Malik, the founder and president of the Pakistani Students Association of Australia, says that many offshore students are experiencing visa refusals. In contrast, others are afraid to travel back home due to fears of visa cancellation upon their return to Australia.

Universities are facing challenges due to visa processing delays. The University of Sydney reports that a "significant number" of students have been forced to defer or withdraw their applications. The University of Melbourne has also provided an extension to allow enrolled international students to start later.

Phil Honeywood, the chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA), criticises the stigmatisation of entire nations as a "blunt instrument" that ignores the benefits of diversity. He suggests that universities are imposing restrictive measures on international students in the hope of improving their risk ratings, which the federal government uses to reduce student numbers.

The crackdown has led to significant budget pressures for some universities, with Federation University announcing plans to cut 200 ongoing positions and the University of Tasmania selling two of its Hobart hotels intended to house international students.

Private institutions have also been hit hard, with English Australia reporting a 68% plummet in visa grants in December 2023 compared to the previous year.

The share of international students is expected to decrease further with an anticipated hike in student visa fees in the May budget, making Australia the most expensive country to apply for a non-refundable visa. Abul Rizvi, the former immigration department deputy secretary, warns that while the flow of students is slowing, the overall number of international students in Australia remains at a record high of over 700,000.

The visa crackdown has led to a blame game, with some arguing that universities and the government are responsible for the decline in quality, not the students themselves. As Australia navigates this challenging situation, it is crucial to find a balance between maintaining the integrity of the education system and ensuring that genuine international students are not unfairly disadvantaged.

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