Australian Student Visa Reforms: Michael Knight delivers: Family delighted though baby slightly pre-matured!

Australia is a few hours ahead and the developments in Canberra certainly meant a “Good Morning” to me… This is how an SMS woke me from my slumber… and the report woke the industry from it’s. Australia released the Hon Michael Knight Recommendations and also its response…(see link) ABC first broke the story and then the immigration site too provided a link to the media release. The Australian and other media channels went ahead and repeated the media release and indicating… (see link)

The government this morning accepted all 41 recommendations in the review by former Sydney Olympics Minister Michael Knight.

I will not be listing ALL the “mood-lifting” recommendations that are certain to shake-up the distressed Indian market and also encourage people such as me to keep faith in the work that we do.

Amongst the “positive” recommendations that any in my industry will love are:

Post Study Work for all Bachelors, Masters and PhD students. The duration of the Masters is also not being detailed and so my assumption will be that even those with one-year Masters degrees can now avail the post study work for two years. I can now remind the British on the mistake that they have committed in their UKBA direction and how Australia is going to take advantage. This was in the pipeline and was rumored for some time now. There is also a recommendation for a transitional arrangement for all those who are currently studying in Australia to be able to avail the post study work. Wow indeed!

Not unreasonably international students would like to gain some potential experience in the country they study. That has several advantages. Just as an Australian university education is a great asset internationally, so too is Australian work experience.

Recommendation 4 Post Study Work Rights

4.1  All graduates of an Australian university Bachelor degree, who have spent at least two academic years studying that degree in Australia, and complied with their visa conditions, should receive two years work rights.

4.2  All graduates of an Australian university Masters by Coursework degree, who have studied that degree in Australia, and complied with their visa conditions, should receive two years work rights on successful completion of their course.

4.3  This should apply irrespective of the nature of the course (for example whether it be Arts or Engineering) and not be tied to working in any particular occupation.    

4.4  The mechanism for taking up these work rights should be administratively very simple with the following components:

  • the university must notify that the course has been successfully completed. (This will be earlier than the formal graduation which could be many months after the course has been completed);
  • DIAC should not undertake any detailed, time consuming, assessment of the applicant; and
  • the scheme must be one which can be marketed by the universities to prospective students as almost guaranteeing post study work rights.

Re-look at the system of AL and treatment of all students as AL1. This will greatly benefit the “genuine” students as it will reduce the fiscal requirements immediately and make the visas easier.

Recommendation 3 – streamlined visa processing for universities

3.1 That all students in the categories set out below, irrespective of their country of origin – but subject to the provisions in 3.5, 3.6 and 3.7 should be treated as though they are all AL1.

3.2  This treatment should apply to the following university student applicants:

  • Bachelor Degree;
  • 2 plus 2 (or 3 plus 1) arrangements with partner universities;
  • Masters Degree by Coursework.

Recommendation 32

That DIAC undertake a review of the AL framework, with a mind to either abolishing the system entirely or modifying the framework to make it relevant to current and future challenges facing the student visa program. This review should be managed by DIAC but should include reference to an external panel or reference group.

Very objective perspective on agents and the need for agents. I feel like clapping straightaway as for the very first time no effort of making agents as scapegoats for all ills has been made. DIAC has also been asked to work closely with agents and professional agent associations.

At the height of the boom in student visas, especially for VET courses leading to permanent residence, some agents overseas found a lucrative niche market recruiting eager applicants for eager providers. This is not to say that these agents were necessarily acting unlawfully or that many agents do not give genuine assistance to students and education providers. The point is, if the conditions are created for some agents to act opportunistically, they will do so.

The quality of agents varies enormously. At one end of the spectrum are groups like IDP.  At the other end of the spectrum are certain sole traders with not much more than a catchy title, a string of promises and a mobile phone.

Just as there is a variety of agents, there is also a variety of attitudes to them. These attitudes fall into three broad categories: ignore them; license and empower them; work cooperatively with agents but informally rather than formally. My own attitude broadly falls between the second and third categories.

Although I do not support a formal licensing of agents, I strongly support DIAC engaging with agents, including conferring benefits on agents DIAC agrees to register for specific purposes. Some overseas posts already do this effectively. It is something which should be encouraged. It is beneficial for both DIAC and agents to meet regularly and for DIAC to be proactive in keeping agents abreast of any changes in rules and procedures. I realise that this means more work and DIAC should consider whether its posts are adequately resourced to upgrade this task. On the other hand, DIAC officers have told me that any investment in cultivating and educating agents pays off in a greater understanding of DIAC’s expectations and compliance with DIAC’s requirements.

I support the promotion of agent professionalism and self‐regulation by requiring providers to only use education agents who:

  • belong to a professional association where one exists;
  • have completed an appropriate training course; and
  • comply with their home country requirements.

DEEWR should also continue its role in leading the development of an international approach to influencing education agent behaviour, with the aim of developing a statement of agreed principles for ethical recruitment by agents.

It does seem that the various interactions with stakeholders and also submissions have been taken seriously. Nobody expects that all suggestions will be accepted but I am personally smiling to notice several of the recommendations made in the AAERI submission and also the suggestions that I/we made at the meeting with Hon Michael Knight as part of the report released today…  I am sure that there are others too who feel that way and this is indeed a way forward.

Now the reason for me to call the recommendations as slightly half-baked or premature:

Knight recommends that PVA be abolished. The reason offered relates to making the system faster and also less time consuming on part of the decision takers. However, I feel that with easier norms, visa officers will have to increase “integrity checks” and possibly also have more “interviews” and hence I donot foresee a huge reduction in visa refusal rates. Honestly, the change of AL from 4 to 3 did allow more interest but also has led to a current visa-rejection rate of 70% from India overall. Even if this percentage doesnot go up, we do expect that with more lodgments, the number of students who will now need to seek refunds for fees from institutions will only go up further. The PVA process helped in curtailing this to a great extent and had its huge pluses. There were some rejections even after PVA but that is inconsequential in this argument that I am making. The PVA process of Australia was successfully aped by NZ through their AIP and it helps in reduction of time and manpower and costs on part of education providers who have to generate lesser number of refund of prepaid fees when a visa is refused. This PVA process also helps in students saving on significant money which otherwise is lost due to forex differentials between selling and buying rates. This point is not so relevant to agents such as myself who do elodgments for bulk of our students but we all know that in practical terms, elodgments cannot be extended to all Indian agents though that may also be another way in the future.

Knight fully understood our argument that Visa Fee is not a decider and hence has not made any recommendation for a reduction. However in light of high visa refusal rate, and increased instances of second-lodgments it is a cost for such students who have to reapply and in some cases due to technical errors on part of the visa officers. Maybe, DIAC can still consider some provisions such as a lower cost for second lodgment or possibly a two-part fee that includes a fee for application and a fee for grant. I know the time for arguments is over.

Knight has possibly not gone into desired depth of the living costs issue. He makes a brief and general comment in his report and leaves the issue untouched. He seems to have taken cue from UK in several aspects but has failed to “mirror the UK policy” of living costs varying between the large and small locations. In the case of Australia, he could have recommended the living costs to be linked to costs in different regions such as the living costs being lower in Darwin or Canberra as compared to Sydney or Melbourne.

Knight refers to the issue relating to spouse dependents but doesn’t cover the requirement that students have to show funds for spouse dependents even when the they are not accompanying the student such as for students who study programs of one year duration when spouses are not even granted the visa as dependents. Why should funds be asked to be demonstrated even when the dependent cannot be granted a visa. This was mentioned as an issue in some submissions too.

Knight Report is not fair to the quality Vocational Providers in many ways. The quote that he cites from the Minister Sibal is one generalized suggestion and certainly not the basis for any recommendation. Vocational Education such as Hotel Management (not Cookery), Fashion Designing, Sound/Audio/Video Engineering, Multimedia/Graphics… are clearly sought after diploma programs especially keeping Australia’s strengths in these disciplines and also employable globally. Had “post study work” been extended to such VET, they could have easily attracted more students now that in the earlier times even when some of the programs are clearly not PR-oriented and not even on SOL. Knight Report has made the generalization of clubbing all VET providers and courses together and hence denying them the post-study-work options or streamlined visa processing. I am not at all talking of VET filling Australia’s shortages here but just focusing on the export of Australian Education. I also feel that the provision of packaging that is being reintroduced has a possibility for abuse and will need to be monitored.

While the streamline processing is being recommended for Bachelors and Masters, it is not being done for the Graduate Diplomas which are mostly part of the Masters and often more suitable to the student.

Knight also seems to be favoring that DIAC accepts the English Requirements as set by the education providers and being fully aware of the situation and quality disparity between providers, this can lead to abuse again.

Concluding Remarks: While I have listed the areas where more work could have been done and some finer recommendations could have been made, let me reiterate here that the report is quite welcome overall and it will lead to a resurgence of interest in Australian Education in overseas markets. There are several very valuable recommendations made in the full report. Now the ball is in DIAC’s court and they will have to find a way to put it into practice… Not going to be easy considering significant changes being recommended by Knight and also being accepted by the Government.

DISCLAIMER: THE ABOVE ARE ONLY MY PERSONAL READINGS OF THE DETAILS AVAILABLE AS OF NOW ON THE IMMIGRATION SITE AND AS MORE DETAILS ARE BEING MADE AVAILABLE SOME OF THE ABOVE MAYNOT BE SO RELEVANT. THE ABOVE IS ‘COMMENTS AS OF NOW”.

16 Comments

  1. Ravi ji you have rightly mentioned certain points which are much relevant and could have been incorporated in the recommendations to further fine tune the student visa program. But yes it is a matter of relieve for the time being where may be Australia in one hand want to “open” the lock-gate for all genuine students but more cautiously as they may not want to repeat some of their old mistakes.

    The fact sheet also mentions :

    (i) the govt will make the VET sector competitive by reducing the fiscal requirements for AL 3 & 4

    (II) introduction of a system for “upfront genuine temporary entrant criterion” even without putting the visa application or any documents ; which may similar to a + profile or – profile criteria in NZ and in that way they may indicate the applicant not to submit the visa application only as it may have high chance for refusal

    (iii) it may possible that a student can complete 1 yr of Master or may be PG Dip and then get 2 yrs of PSW and after 2 yrs of work he may again enroll for 1 yr of Master and get another 2 yrs of PSW again – ???

    (Iv) unlimited work hours for HDR students can be further help for the Research students

    (v) work entitlements of 40 hrs in a fortnight : can give advantage to the serious students to concentrate more on studies during the weekdays and and work more hours during the week-end

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  2. Ravi its 8.30 pm and I am writing and you know what…
    I always thought that you are wasting your time writing/ traveling/ organizing meetings with officials and trying to uplift this industry, but today I have realized that due to your efforts we and many others will benefit, I don’t know about others but I owe you a lot. You are that ONE man that the agents in India/ the AAERI and Australian government should be thankful.
    I have nothing much to say but right people will understand.

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  3. I welcome hearing your positive comments and inferring that Australia is “reintroducing quality educational offerings to the world”. It is a “positive start” of what needs to be a consistent approach for prospective students, parents and businesses if Australia is to reclaim its quality destination, quality educational options and quality career work options reputation.
    Your comments on living expenses is warranted as living and studying in the Gold Coast, Lismore or Coffs Harbour areas as an SCU student can be approx. 40-50% less than a capital city.
    I look forward to seeing you in India in 2012.

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    1. Don, this is where Regional Universities need to come in. The report leaves the issue of living costs to the price-indexation and I would feel that with strong lobbying a point can be made that the price index cannot be one for the whole country for this particular purpose.

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  4. The Knight in the shining armor delivers! quite a positive change i reckon. We have seen the numbers and the image of Australian Education decline in the recent past. This seems to be just what the doctor ordered strategy. Although i am already contemplating that unscrupulous agents and shady providers must be thinking about the loopholes that this review brings with it. The packaging of VET courses with university courses and you qualify under AL 1…..interesting, positive or Knight has just opened the pandora’s box!?

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    1. As indicated in my blog, the packaging has full potential of abuse as it happened in the past and I am unsure why it has been brought back. Having said this, I see less attraction to packaging when an exit after diploma is not going to get PSW.

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      1. Hi Ravi,
        Firstly, I would want to appreciate your effort to go ahead be so active and aggressive which has resulted to this day today, not only you but to all others who have contributed to this effort which would most likely benefit the entire industry. A lot has been said by friends here so i would rather not disucss things again. Thanks again…..not all has gone in vain…….hopefully.

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  5. Hello Ravi,

    I agree with Venu’s comments…..However, I am of the view that in Australia it is competitive to find jobs for the Degree holders in the current economic scenario. Today the companies need more skill workers and fewer managers. Is Australia compromising its niche of Vocational training by protecting the Australian Universities? Is this the right trade off !!!!! The economic scenario certainly says no……

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  6. Dear Ravi – I have gone through your blog. You are right the report is welcoming one and would help Australian International Student Program to re-establish itself in India market. However, DIAC will have to work very hard to implement it. I agree with you that PVA process should not be lifted immediately from a market like India where the current rejection rate is 70% and lowering of Assessment Level from 4 to 3 has not shown any impact on the improvement on quality of applications, rather it has opened the flood gates for non-genuien third party sponsorships. Therefore, PVA should be lifted in phases instead of in one go. it is sad to see that the VET sector has been ignored. There should have been some concessions for quality providers, as it is the strength of the Australian Education Sector.

    Let us be positive keep our fingers crossed and see how DIAC go with its implementation.

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    1. Absolutely Gulshan… the current rejection rate of 70% is already such a concern and with more visa applications, it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds. Manpower and time may be saved at the end of DIAC by abolishing PVA and it might reflect well on statistics showing that efficiency has been achieved but is the cost for this efficiency right. The headache of organizing refunds for students who have refusals and also the loss of money on part of students due to buying and selling rate differentials does negate the efficiency that will be achieved through this…

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