Oz wages war on student visa fraud

April 14, 2000

The Australian government will take action against colleges that collude with overseas students to evade immigration regulations.

The government will use electronic tracking of students and better communications between the education and immigration departments to protect Australia's A$3.3 billion (Pounds 1.25 billion) education export industry.

More than 300,000 fee-paying foreign students are expected to enrol in Australian universities, colleges and schools this year. The largest and most lucrative group comprises private English-language colleges, where enrolments of overseas students jumped from 51,000 in 1991 to 158,000 last year.

But the sector's reputation has been tarnished by claims of poor standards, low-quality courses and immigration fraud. The government is also stepping up action against students who abuse their visa conditions.

Foreign students mostly enrol in the colleges to improve their English before going to university. But they have complained about course quality in some institutions, constant changes in teaching staff or occasionally no teachers at all, insensitivity to their cultural backgrounds, refusals by some colleges to grant refunds and misleading advertising.

Federal education minister David Kemp said that legislation needed significant strengthening to better protect overseas students and the reputation of the industry. He said that federal legislation should be amended to enable the country to investigate providers "not operating in the best interests of the industry".

"While Australia's education exporters have met the challenge of the Asian downturn and the sector has now resumed its growth, the commonwealth intends to work more closely with the states and take a stronger role in providing safeguards for overseas students," said Mr Kemp.

To stop foreigners using the student visa system as a means of gaining illegal entry, assistant immigration minister Kay Patterson announced changes to the programme.

Criteria for issuing visas will be modified to reflect the fact that students from some countries pose a higher risk of visa abuse than others. Although the minister did not identify countries, students from China and India are considered to be high risk when it comes to remaining in Australia as illegal immigrants after their visas have expired.

"The changes will involve developing objective and measurable indicators of the risk of students not complying with their visa conditions," Senator Patterson said.

The new rules mean that if an institution advises the immigration department that a student has not complied with visa conditions - for example, by not attending class and working instead - the student will have 28 days to explain why the visa should not be cancelled. Failure to report to the department in person will mean automatic cancellation of the visa.

"This change will send a clear message to overseas students that they will be sent home if they abuse the student visa system," Senator Patterson said.

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