If you are planning on moving to Australia through a study visa route but with the primary hope of securing employment, you may want to reassess the viability of your plans following the latest changes in Australian immigration rules.
The Australian Government on Saturday, August 26, announced that it had closed a ‘loophole’ in its visa rules that made it possible for foreign students to register in cheaper vocational courses immediately after arriving in the country.
This loophole, according to reports from local media, allowed some foreign students to abandon university studies in favour of cheaper private colleges and work instead of studying.
This follows a month-long investigation by Australian newspaper The Age, published on August 19, 2023, that revealed the “concurrent study” rule had led to the mushrooming of ‘ghost colleges’ across Melbourne that registered thousands of foreign students, with only a few actually attending class.
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Under this “concurrent study” rule, international students were being allowed to register for vocational courses in addition to their core university studies in order to help them get ready for the job market through short courses such as barista training. Interested international students were allowed to do this immediately after arriving in Australia.
However, investigations alluded to by the Australian government found that thousands were taking advantage of the rule to permanently ditch their university courses and switch to the cheaper courses offered by private colleges.
A news report published by Reuters shows that concurrent study has been rising in popularity lately with enrolments skyrocketing in the first half of 2023.
A record 17,000 concurrent study enrolments were recorded in the first half of 2023 as compared to just 10,500 enrolments that were registered in 2019 and 2022 combined.
Investigations further reveal that a growing number of international students in Australia are securing their visas through universities and immediately move to cheaper vocational colleges before they are required to pay the fees for their first semester in university.
A Kenyan student living in Australia who spoke to Money254 on condition of anonymity says that indeed some international students switch to cheaper short courses that can open the doors to earning a living soon after arriving in the country.
“Yes, some people come here and leave school. That's true, juggling school and work is a bit tricky. Or they enrol to certificate courses like cookery, especially if you are in a degree or diploma.”
On whether the risky move of abandoning a degree course to pursue employment opportunities really pays off in the long-term, the Kenyan student says it may work for some.
“Especially with cookery, for example, it can give you permanent residence in the long run,” she opined.
This may be consistent with sentiments by a University of Sydney academic, Salvatore Babones, who argues that the Australian student visa has become synonymous with what he describes as a “ low-skill work visa” arguing that those using the loophole are not genuinely studying.
Since these revelations were made, the Australian Government has revised the rule preventing students from moving to a vocation course from a university course until after at least six months of study.
Players in the industry are already suggesting an extension of this period. One such voice is Ravi Lochan Singh, an agent with overseas education consultants Global Reach, who has for over 32 years recruited students to Australia who says the loophole should be closed for 12 months.
Singh suggests Australia follows the New Zealand model where a visa is linked to a particular education institution.
Also included in the changes is an increase in the amount of savings international students will need to have in order to qualify for a student visa.
Effective October 1, 2023, foreign students will need to provide evidence of having 24,505 Australian Dollars or Ksh2.3 million in savings. This is a 17% increase as compared to the current savings requirements.
This change, the Australian government said, has been effected to account for the increase in the cost of living - an amount that had not been revised since 2019.
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Also hot on the heels of this investigation is the flagging of some high-risk education providers manipulating the visa system with the Australian government considering invoking powers to suspend them from recruiting international students.
“The party is over, the rorts and loopholes that have plagued this system will be shut down,” the country’s Home Affairs Minister, Clare O’Neil, is quoted in a report by the Sydney Morning Herald.
The publication states that a staggering 500,000 overseas students moved to Australia for the year ending June 2023, over half of them using smaller education providers to get visas.
Government data quoted by the publication shows a rise in visa refusals associated with these institutions. Over 40,000 visa refusals were registered in the vocational education sector alone in the financial year ending June 30, 2023.
“The government said it had been driven by a rise in the use of fraudulent documentation and students wanting to come to Australia primarily to work, not study,” the publication reports of the situation where over 200 smaller education providers with visa refusal rates higher than 50% have been flagged.
Thousands of Kenyans over the years have moved to Australia in the search for higher education and employment opportunities with thousands more applying for opportunities each year.
The latest changes will impact Kenyans who may have been advised to take advantage of this loophole as a route to employment.
“Education is one of our biggest export industries and Kenya is the largest source of international students from Africa. We have master’s scholarship programmes and Kenyan students can apply including other targeted short courses scholarships,” Australian Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister, Tim Watts, revealed in an interview with The Standard during the opening of the new Australian High Commission in Nairobi on February 20, 2022.