international student visa
Commuters walk outside the usually bustling Flinders Street station in Melbourne on July 10, 2020, as the city re-enters a lockdown after a fresh outbreak of the COVID-19. Source: WILLIAM WEST/AFP

Can’t get your international student visa ready in time to start classes at your Australian university? Heave a sigh of relief as the Australian government has announced five major visa changes to support international students amidst the pandemic.

The granting of student visas in all locations lodged outside Australia will ensure students will already have visas and can make arrangements to travel once borders reopen.

This was announced by Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge on Monday.

Other changes announced include:

  • International students will be able to lodge a further student visa application for free if they cannot complete their studies within their original visa validity due to COVID-19.
  • Current student visa holders studying online outside Australia due to COVID-19 will be allowed to count that period of study when applying for a post-study work visa.
  • Graduates who held a student visa will be eligible to apply for a post-study work visa outside Australia if they are unable to return due to COVID-19.
  • Additional time will be given for applicants to provide English language results where COVID-19 has disrupted access to these services.

Tudge said these changes will ensure international students are not worse off due to COVID-19 and that Australia remains competitive with other countries.

“We are a welcoming nation with a world-class education system and some of the lowest rates of COVID-19 in the world. 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,” he said.

International students are important to the Australian economy – they contribute 40 billion Australian dollars annually and support 250,000 jobs. Many Australian universities also depend on international students to stay afloat.

This move will not only support the education sector, but it will also have flow-on effects for many local communities and businesses, including accommodation services, tourism, hospitality and retail, said Tudge.

In the same statement, Minister for Education Dan Tehan said the changes would give international students confidence in their visa arrangements so they can make plans to study in Australia when it is safe to do so.

“Our 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,” said Tehan.

The Australian government has previously relaxed work restrictions for international students working in the health, aged and disability care sectors during the pandemic. 

It has also been flexible in cases where COVID-19 has prevented international students meeting their visa conditions, such as not being able to attend classes in person.

Restarting processing of Australian student visas a welcome move

international student visa

The Australian government is doing what it can to ensure the pandemic doesn’t thwart students’ plans to study in the country. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

Interim chair for Group of Eight universities Margaret Gardner, who is also the vice-chancellor of Monash University, was quoted saying by The Guardian that the group was “pleased [the] government has recognised the need for flexibility around visa settings in the current circumstances”.

“This will ensure students who have been forced to study offshore due to travel restrictions will still have access to post-study work rights,” she was quoted saying.

In The Sydney Morning Herald,Australian National University professor in the practice of higher education policy Andrew Norton said the post-study work visa question had been worrying students but the changes will give them more certainty.

The Australian government has yet to announce when Australian borders would reopen.

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