Visa delays continue to plague Australian universities

Universities haemorrhage money as students face months-long waits

July 3, 2024
Spectators uses a flag to cover as rain stops play at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne to illustrate delays
Source: Associated Press/Alamy

Visa delays and refusals are playing havoc with Australian universities’ course and financial planning, weeks ahead of the new semester.

Median visa processing time frames for higher education students have more than tripled in the past few months, according to the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). Fifty per cent of applicants are kept waiting at least 47 days for their paperwork to be processed – up from 14 days in February – with 10 per cent of students facing delays of at least four months.

Meanwhile, refusal rates for offshore visa applicants are running at almost three times the pre-Covid average. Overall, one in five applications is rejected, including about one in three from India, one in two from Nepal and three in five from Pakistan.

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) said its deadline for South Asian students to accept enrolment offers used to be about a month before the start of semester. Visa processing delays have forced the institution to increase the buffer period, according to deputy vice-chancellor Iain Watt.

“If they haven’t accepted their offers by about two months before the start of term, we won’t confirm their enrolments because we know they won’t get a visa in time,” Mr Watt said.

He estimated that UTS stood to lose more than A$100 million (£52 million) in tuition fees from students who would have been able to enrol this year but for the visa processing changes and delays over the past six months.

UTS is one of 16 universities that have managed to retain their level 1 immigration risk ratings despite a widespread increase in visa rejections. “You can imagine what it’s like for institutions that are now rated at level 2 or 3, and have been put at the back of the visa processing queue,” Mr Watt said.

DHA figures show that demand for Australian education remains strong. Some 185,000 would-be students applied from overseas for higher education visas over the 11 months to May – marginally more than over the same period a year earlier, and more than 50 per cent more than in pre-Covid times. But the number of visas issued so far this calendar year is 26 per cent lower than in the equivalent period of 2023.

Campus resource: What will it take to ensure that international students are treated fairly?

Charles Sturt University (CSU) said about 40 per cent of its incoming international students were yet to receive visas, with the new term just a few weeks away. Feedback from students and agents suggested that most visas were taking two to three months to process, said pro vice-chancellor Mike Ferguson.

“Semester one hit us and other universities hard. It looks like semester two is going to be very similar. It just makes it very difficult to plan, particularly with caps looming over us.”

CSU estimates that the changes to visa processing have cost it about A$40 million so far. Mr Ferguson, a former director of international education policy at DHA, said authorities were denying visas to “genuine” students as “a mechanism to reduce net overseas migration”.

He said proposed international enrolment caps could function as a circuit breaker. “The hope and expectation is that once the caps are in place we’ll go back to a more consistent processing scenario.”

Mr Watt said all but five Australian universities were losing students to other countries, principally the US but also non-anglophone destinations such as Germany and Malaysia, “because we’re perceived as not as welcoming as we used to be”. He said he did not expect visa processing to improve before the next federal election. “All of this is about political parties wanting to show that they’re in control of migration numbers.”


Print headline: Australian HE still beset by visa delays

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles