In a push to restart international education, Australia plans to recommence granting international student visas and allow current students to count online study while overseas toward a work visa.
The changes, announced by Acting Australian Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge yesterday, respond to demands from the university sector to help it attract international students and revive what was Australia’s third-largest export before the COVID-19 recession.
Nevertheless, the concessions are unlikely to alleviate calls for greater support for the sector, which had asked for future students to be able to begin their studies overseas online, an option that has not been approved in this package.
Australian universities face an estimated A$16 billion (US$11.19 billion) black hole due to a massive drop-off in international student numbers, compounded by warnings from China against its citizens coming to Australia to study.
Tudge said that the government would change student visa arrangements to “ensure Australia remains a priority destination for international students as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Under the changes, the government would recommence granting student visas, allowing travel to Australia as soon as borders reopen.
International students would be able to lodge an additional student visa application free of charge, if COVID-19 prevented them from completing their studies under their original visa.
Current student visa holders studying online outside Australia due to COVID-19 would be able to count that study time toward the Australian study requirement for a post-study work visa.
“In making these changes, we have been guided by the principles that the health of Australians is key, but that international students should not be further disadvantaged by COVID-19,” Tudge said.
“We are a welcoming nation with a world-class education system and some of the lowest rates of COVID-19 in the world,” he said. “Students want to study here and we want to welcome them back in a safe and measured way when it is safe to do so.”
Australian Minister of Education Dan Tehan, said that Australia’s “remarkable efforts in controlling the spread of the virus mean we can begin to welcome back international students in a COVID-safe way once state borders reopen and face-to-face learning resumes.”
Although the government has guaranteed its A$18 billion contribution to universities, it has effectively excluded them from wage subsidies, contributing to big job cuts at institutions including Monash University and the University of New South Wales.
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