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“Visa hopping” ban could impact Australia’s ELT sector

The move, which is part of Australia’s broader migration reform strategy and comes in from July 1, is aimed at closing loopholes that allow students and other temporary visa holders to reside down under. 

“Our Migration Strategy outlines a clear plan to close the loopholes in international education and this is the next step in delivering that plan,” the country’s minister of home affairs, Clare O’Neil, said in a statement. 

“We need a migration system which delivers the skills we need but doesn’t trade in rorts, loopholes and exploitation,” she added. 

According to the Australian government, individuals using the visitor-to-student pathway have become increasingly prevalent, with over 36,000 applications between July 1, 2023, and May 31, 2024. 

English Australia – which serves as the national body for the English language sector in the country, representing over 100 member colleges – has already slammed the move, branding it a “dramatic change without basis in data or research”. 

“This represents yet another dramatic change being made without a basis in data or research and that yet again there has been no economic impact study on likely results of the changes. No data or research has been provided to show student visa holders who previously held a visitor visa have any significant tendency to fail to comply with their visa obligations to a greater degree than other cohorts or offshore shore applicants,” said English Australia CEO Ian Aird. 

According to English Australia, the curbs not only unfairly punish genuine students who wish to study in Australia but also ‘high-quality providers who invest in the services and programs that attract these applicants.’

Though it’s too soon to tell how English language schools will be impacted post the changes, some of them are taking a wait-and-watch approach to it. 

Ian Aird, English Australia

Langports, an English language college with facilities in Brisbane and Gold Coast, has over 500-600 students depending on the week. Some 50% of its students on study visas and the rest have enrolled on a diverse range of visas such as tourist, working holiday, and other dependent visas. 

“Since we are only focused on English language courses, we are recruiting students from overseas to come and study English and go home. So our students will come on study, tourist, or working holiday visas and go back home. The new rules might affect the ones who want to stay in Australia or want to move onto vocational or higher education courses,” Anna Bell, CEO, Langports told The PIE News

“[Roughly] 90-95% of our bookings come from offshore. Schools that are recruiting onshore, mainly the vocational ones or cheap English schools would probably be the most affected first. That’s my opinion,” she added. 

As per Australian visa rules for English language schools, if students plan to study in Australia for less than 12 weeks in total, they have to apply for a tourist visa but if they plan to study for longer, a student visa is needed. 

This represents yet another dramatic change being made without a basis in data or research and that yet again there has been no economic impact study on likely results of the changes.

Ian Aird, English Australia

But amid major policy changes, English language schools in Australia are already facing the brunt of visa rejections.

According to Bell, students from Colombia have seen a 40% rejection rate in January and February 2024, with other countries like Thailand also seeing a slew of rejections in the past 12 months. 

“Though in the last six months, we had only a dozen visa rejections, we have seen four rejections just this week alone, out of which two students were onshore. There’s no pattern behind these rejections, on age or nationality, and it’s really difficult to understand why this is happening,” said Bell. 

“We are trying to diversify our market and get students from countries where there’s low risk. We currently have students from 25 different nationalities.”

English language industry stakeholders in Australia have also highlighted unexplained visa rejections for students applying from offshore.

“Latest visa approval data shows three in four Colombian English language applicants (offshore) are denied, despite most students actually meeting the criteria to study in Australia,” said a LinkedIn post by Simon Costain, general manager, international business development, NextEd group, which operates a group of eight private tertiary education businesses. 

“The Aussie government keeps the $710 visa fee, equivalent to half of the average monthly salary of Colombians. There has been a decision to reduce numbers, fine – but show some transparency and produce a new book of rules that the industry needs to follow. These are people’s lives and dreams, not stats on a page,” the post added.

Over 150,000 international students stayed in Australia on a second or subsequent student visa in 2022/23. 

But according to English Australia: “For many years, prospective students have come to Australia on tourist visas, alone and with their families, so they can visit a location and an educational institution to ensure it is a good fit for their needs … this represents the definition of a genuine student and should be applauded, not banned.”

The body further noted that “halving net migration is highly likely to drive Australia into a recession”, with the curb plans being part of the government’s effort to hold migrants responsible “for the housing crisis that is gripping the country”. 

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