australian student visa
The DHA website notes, “Due to COVID-19, some visa processing times have been affected. Applications may take longer to finalise." Source: Steven Saphore/AFP

Helpless. Angry. Distressed. These would be the words that convey the feelings of international students who have yet to receive their Australian student visas despite the country’s borders reopening to vaccinated visa holders in December.

Deepak Chahal, an Indian PhD student at Macquarie University, told Study International that he applied for the student Subclass 500 visa on Jan. 14, 2021 and has been waiting for it for 15 months.

The New Delhi native claimed that after contacting the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), he, along with several other PhD students, received a “generic” reply which included that their application is going through mandatory checks that take up time.

“I am in great distress and anxiety regarding my visa situation. And it’s not just me; we are approximately 20 PhD students in India (linked through a WhatsApp group) who have been waiting for their visa for one to two years,” explained the 27-year-old. 

Some of them have yet to enrol as their universities require a visa.

“We have struggled and fought a lot to get PhD scholarships at these universities, while right now we are not receiving the scholarships since we are not enrolled,” he said.

“We are all depressed because of our visa situation. Most of us are on the verge of losing our PhD offer, as universities cannot defer our PhD degree more. We are feeling helpless, angry, distressed, depressed just because of our visa situation.”

Hamed Pourazad applied for his visa application before COVID-19 hit Australian borders. The 34-year-old, who received a scholarship to pursue his PhD at the University of Newcastle, hoped he would get his visa and head to Australia before the borders closed, but to no avail.

The Iranian was not assured by the DHA’s feedback that they are seeking to process visa applications as soon as possible.

“Personally, the University of Newcastle has been very supportive during my visa process. They have deferred my scholarship multiple times, and did not mention anything about cancellation,” he said.

He claimed that some of his friends, however, had lost their scholarships, while some were on the verge of losing them. Others who had received grants for their proposals fear that their grant will be cancelled, said Pourazad.

australian student visa

Some students are still anxious about their visa applications. Source: Deepak Chahal

Bolstering efforts to process offshore student visa applications

In response to Study International’s enquiry, a DHA spokesperson said the department has focussed effort on processing student visa applications lodged offshore to support Semester 1 commencements in 2022 since borders reopened to fully vaccinated student visa holders on Dec. 15, 2021.

“Student visa processing has continued throughout the pandemic with almost 258,000 student visa applications finalised in the 2020-21 programme year, and more than 200,000 applications finalised between July 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022,” said the spokesperson. 

The spokesperson added: “The time it takes to process a student visa is dependent on a range of factors, including the personal circumstances of the applicant. A visa cannot be granted until the department is satisfied all requirements have been met.”

As of April 17, 2022, there are over 100,000 student visa holders currently offshore who can travel to Australia, if they are fully vaccinated. 

“Between Nov. 20, 2021 and April 15, 2022, the department granted over 77,800 student visas to applicants offshore; as those onshore refreshing their student visas are able to continue their studies,” said the spokesperson.

Australia was among the first countries to close its borders to international students when COVID-19 broke out, but it was also among the last leading study abroad destinations to reopen them. 

The Australian government, however, has been bolstering efforts to woo international students back to its shores. This includes the temporary removing working hour caps, introducing a visa refund scheme and relaxing the eligibility requirements for a Temporary Graduate Visa, which allows international students to live, study and work in Australia after they have finished their studies. 

Affected students can click here for details on visa application processing times.