Massive increase to Australian student visa fees

‘Outrageous impost’ to fund domestic education initiatives is ‘robbing Ranjit to pay for Richard’

July 1, 2024
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Australia has more than doubled the cost of student visa applications, in the latest blow to the country’s beleaguered international education industry.

From 1 July, the fee for international student visas has been increased from A$710 (£375) to A$1,600, in what the federal government described as a demonstration of its commitment to ethical behaviour in the international education sector.

The extra revenue will help to fund Universities Accord reforms to domestic higher education – including free preparatory courses, payments for compulsory practicums and cuts to graduate debt – as well as implementation of the government’s migration strategy.

“The changes coming into force today will help restore integrity to our international education system and create a migration system which is fairer, smaller and better able to deliver for Australia,” said home affairs minister Clare O’Neil.

The International Education Association of Australia said it was “an outrageous impost on a sector which is already facing death by a thousand cuts”.

“These non-refundable visa application fees will place Australia at more than double the cost of our closest competitor countries,” said chief executive Phil Honeywood. “The fact that the additional revenue is going to pay for its accord implementation will provide no benefit to the overseas students who will have to stump up.

“This sends all the wrong messages about Australia as a welcoming, supportive study destination. In practice, we will be robbing Ranjit to pay for Richard. This is exploitation of overseas young people at its worst.”

The visa fee hike, which the sector had been anticipating for several months, was a surprise omission from the May federal budget. Its sudden enforcement now is the latest body blow to an industry that had been recovering strongly from Covid-19 border closures until the government unleashed a string of changes from late last year.

They included ramping up visa rejections and slowing down visa processing for students enrolled with institutions rated as moderate or high immigration risk. The number of universities with poor risk ratings rose sharply in April, partly because of the government’s visa processing changes.

Canberra also plans to cap the number of international students allowed at each university, in decisions personally overseen by the education minister, Jason Clare.

In May, the government set one of the world’s steepest proof-of-funds tests for overseas students. In June, it announced that people with visitor and temporary graduate visas would be banned from applying for student visas while they were in Australia, to stop foreigners from “visa hopping” to prolong their time in the country.

Commentators acknowledge that Australia’s international education industry has problems with so-called students lured mainly by work and migration opportunities, and the exploitation of students by unscrupulous employers and landlords.

But critics say these issues have been fuelled by Canberra’s removal of limits on international students’ paid work during and after the coronavirus pandemic, and by short-lived promises to increase the duration of graduate visas.

They say the policy changes since last December are overreactions to problems largely of the government’s making, motivated by a political bunfight over migration numbers rather than integrity problems in international education.

The Association of Australian Education Representatives in India said the visa fee hike was a “huge blunder”, making Australia the world’s most expensive international education destination. “Genuine students wanting to study in…Australia will now think twice,” said AAERI president Nishi Borra. “[If a] visa is declined, students will lose A$1,600, and there is no right to review.”

Mr Borra said it would be preferable to charge half the fee at lodgement stage, requiring the balance only for successful applications. He said there was “no logic” in extracting more money from people who were already subsidising Australian higher education.

The Group of Eight described the fee increase as “blatant” revenue raising “masked” as a measure to deter low-quality students. “[It] will reverse the diversification of countries from which students come, at the very time the federal government is encouraging our universities to attract quality students from [South-east Asia],” said chief executive Vicki Thomson.

“Yet again, our international students are being used as cash cows to prop up the economy, the national research effort and now to fund other government initiatives.”

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