Australian government moves to fix student visa delays

Published 27/06/2022

Extraordinary visa delays for international students have put the breaks on Australia’s international education recovery, just four months after borders fully re-opened.

The International Education Association of Australia noted that the “discovery of significant delays to student visa processing times has come at the worst possible time for Australia’s beleaguered international education sector”.

A backlog in visa processing extends to regional skilled worker visas, topping 16,400, as reported by AFR.

Australia’s newly elected government has sprung into action, as the country is losing precious time in getting not only the international students, but also the much needed skilled workers onshore within reasonable timeframes.

“My focus is on making sure that we clear this backlog as quickly and as efficiently as possible, in the national interest,” Andrew Giles, Australia’s new Immigration minister told the national broadcaster, ABC Radio.

In addition to reducing the backlog there was a need to “deliver a visa system that’s fit for purpose”, he added.

Budgetary cuts of around $875 million to the department of Home Affairs in the last budget cycle have considerably impacted the visa processing times.

“What [these budgetary cuts] did is to place an even bigger burden on the hardworking women and men of the department,” Giles said.

“We are working our way through the scale of the backlog, as well as looking at resource allocations and policy options needed to get things moving. As the prime minister made clear, this has to be an absolute priority for Australia.”

PM Albanese has previously said that short-term migration will need to be a part of the solution for skill shortages. “We need to work on clearing the backlog there from people who have visas that have been granted,” he told reporters on June 17.

“A host of problems have now beset our nation’s ability to turn around visas in a timely manner”

“This is my number one priority [as well], to get on top of the backlog, but also to ensure that it doesn’t happen again and that we move away from the lazy approach to immigration policy of the last nine years and really tie it to a clear vision of our economic future and the sort of country we want to continue to be, the world’s most successful multicultural society,” Giles emphasised.

“Just when we thought we had turned the corner from the previous ‘Fortress Australia’ syndrome, we have been told by our Home Affairs department that a host of problems have now beset our nation’s ability to turn around visas in a timely manner,” Phil Honeywood, CEO of IEAA told The PIE News.

“Some of these include a lack of trained staff available at our embassies to cope with the workload, Covid-related lockdowns that require visas to be processed in other countries, and an upsurge in fraudulent documents from certain student source countries.”

However, Honeywood added that the quarterly meeting of Home Affairs department’s Education Visa Consultative Committee last week offered clarification on the processing delay issues.

“While admitting that visa processing was currently slower than pre-Covid levels, the department emphasised that they have now been provided with significant additional funding by the new federal government to ‘clear the visa backlog’,” he explained.

“This includes hiring large numbers of new staff at our embassies as well as offering overtime to existing staff who agree to work longer hours.

“Assurances were also provided that any changes to the current ‘uncapped work hours for full time students’ would involve consultation with stakeholders and be a phased process rather than any sudden return to students’ previously limited pre-Covid work entitlements.”

“International students are a vital part of the Curtin University family and with borders now open, we encourage the new federal government to ensure that those who wish to study here in Australia are enabled to do so and that universities are supported in making a sustainable post-pandemic recovery,” Seth Kunin, Curtin University deputy vice-chancellor, Global, added.

Giles stressed that the government must ensure the short-term measures it is taking is “consistent with the vision for rebuilding the economy, rebuilding and re-skilling Australian jobs, and boosting our productivity into the future”.

The country’s National Cabinet recently agreed to affirm its shared commitment to urgently addressing skills shortages.

“As part of the Commonwealth’s commitment, [the Cabinet] will urgently work to address a backlog in processing visa applications in areas of skills shortages, reduce visa processing times and prioritise training and migration,” the statement from the latest meeting read.

“ITECA had advised the minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs that urgent action was required to address lengthening times to process international student visas,” said Troy Williams, chief executive of The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia.

“It’s great that this advocacy has translated into action.

“ITECA has advised the Australian government that delays to international student visa processing are currently the single biggest barrier to the recovery of the international education sector and to welcoming students back to Australia,” Williams said.

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