Five recently announced visa changes: What do these mean for international students offshore?

On the 20th of July 2020, Honourable Alan Trudge, Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, announced five new visa changes for international students who are affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.  The intent of this article is to explain each visa amendment and provide examples on how it applies to international students.

Here are the five visa changes:

  1. Student visa application processing for offshore applications has restarted.

Since the Australian borders closed on the 20th of March 2020, many pending student visa applications lodged offshore have remained undecided.  This has kept many student visa applicants hanging and in doubt on how the Department of Home Affairs will handle their pending visa applications.  The usual questions were: Will my student visa get refused because of the border closure? Will my application be processed only after the travel ban is lifted?
There is now a clear direction that pending student visa applications will be processed.  Expect requests for information or requests for health and medical check or visa decisions to be out soon.  If you get a student visa grant, you may be given an option by your education provider to study online while offshore or to defer your enrolment until you can attend your classes face to face in Australia once our border reopens.

  1. Waived visa fees for students who cannot complete their course of study within the duration of their current student visa.

In relation to item 1, since student visas will be issued even if students are still offshore and could not start their classes, there’s a high chance that the stay period on the issued student visas will not cover the revised course duration.

For example, you applied for a two-year Master’s Degree with an intake date of July 2020 and you got your student visa granted in September 2020 valid until September 2022. Let’s assume that you did not opt for online studies while offshore, our border opens in February 2021, and you then decided to go for a March 2021 intake.  This will mean that your course would be completed in December 2022 which is after your current student visa expires.  When you apply for another student visa to cover for the remaining months of your course, your visa fee will be free of charge.

  1. Online offshore studies for student visa holders will be counted towards the Australian study requirement for a Temporary Graduate Visa (subclass 485) Post Study Work Stream.

International students who complete a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Australia can be eligible for a Temporary Graduate Visa (subclass 485) Post Study Work Stream if they satisfy the Australian Study Requirement (ASR) and the rest of the criteria for this visa.  One of the key requirements to satisfy ASR is that studies (CRICOS registered course/s) should be done in Australia with a duration of of at least 16 calendar months completed within least two academic years.  However, if you were granted a student visa while offshore and decided to take online studies, the time you spent in studying outside of Australia will be counted towards the ASR course duration requirement.

  1. Students who are offshore and are eligible for a Temporary Graduate Visa (subclass 485) will be able to lodge offshore if they cannot return to Australia due to Covid.

Graduate visas are lodged onshore as this visa is meant for international students who studied in Australia and are currently in Australia at the time of their visa application lodgement. With this change, the Department of Home Affairs will accept Graduate visa applications even if the applicant is offshore and if he/she cannot return to Australia due to the pandemic.  This applies to student visa holders who travelled outside of Australia for a supposedly a quick holiday but got stuck in their home country, completed their studies offshore via remote learning, and can satisfy all the criteria for a Graduate Visa.

  1. Additional time will be given in providing English test scores.

Some English language test providers have temporarily closed while some have limited available exam schedules due to the pandemic.  While some English tests are still available, not all test takers are able to travel to the exam centres due to the lockdowns in their area.  Getting extension in providing evidence for the English language capability criteria is a huge help for people who are applying for a student visa or a Graduate visa.

Overall, these new visa changes are beneficial to international students who are still offshore and are waiting to come to Australia for the first time student visa holders or to return to Australia to continue their studies or apply their newly acquired skills and knowledge while on a Temporary Graduate Visa (subclass 485).

Just hang in there, we are all in this together and we hope to see you all soon!