Streamlined Visa Processing for Degree-Level Students and Increased Work Rights from March 2012

By Mark Webster
16 April 2012

Changes to the Migration Regulations for Student Visas were introduced on 24 March 2012. The main impact of these changes are:

  • To streamline visa processing for students seeking to complete qualifications at the bachelor degree level or higher in Australia; and
  • To provide more flexible work rights for students on arrival in Australia

Streamlined Visa Processing for Degree-Level Students

The level of documentation required to obtain a student visa depends on the applicant's Assessment Level. Assessment levels vary depending on the applicant's passport and the type of course they are seeking to complete in Australia.

The Migration Regulations specify the amount of funds and English language ability which is required. The Assessment level can also determine whether family members can be included in the student visa application, and whether the visa will be subject to a "no further stay" condition.

The most favourable assessment level is Level 1 - in general this requires a declaration that the student has access to sufficient funds and has satisfies the education provider that they have sufficient English for the course.

From 24 March 2012, students enrolled in courses at the bachelor level or higher with an approved provider will be assessed as if they were Assessment Level 1.

As a result, such students may not be required to provide the same level of documentation on their funds and English language ability as was previously the case. In most cases, degree-level students will be able to obtain a student visa much more easily than was previously the case.

Eligible Courses

Courses which are eligible for streamlined processing include:
  • Bachelor degrees - including where these are undertaken in cooperation with an overseas university in a 2 plus 2 or 3 plus 1 arrangement.
  • Master Degrees - including by coursework and by research
  • Doctorate or PhD studies
  • Package courses - where the student is enrolled in a bachelor or higher qualification, but completes vocational studies, ELICOS (English language) or foundation studies prior to commencing the degree course
  • Student Exchanges of a semester or longer

Courses Not Eligible for Streamlined Processing

The following courses would not be eligible for streamlined processing:
  • Graduate Certificates
  • Graduate Diplomas
  • Associate degrees
  • Diplomas, Advanced Diplomas and trade certificates
  • Any other non-award qualifications, or qualifications below the bachelor degree level

Eligible Providers

The degree-level course must be taken through an approved provider. The approved providers are specified by the Department of Immigration, and include 41 of the 42 universities in Australia.

Any foundation, ELICOS or vocational course must be taken through an approved business partner of the university.

In order to qualify for streamlined processing, students must be enrolled in the course at a participating university and provide an ECoE (Electronic Confirmation of Enrolment) with their student visa application.

Changes to Assessment Levels

The assessment levels for student visas have also been revised and postgraduate research students are now all either Assessment level 1 or 2. You can check your assessment level from our student visa page.

Limitations of the Changes

Whilst the changes will make life easier for many students, there are some limitations which should be considered.

Even though students will not be subject to the proscriptive documentary requirements set out in the Migration Regulations, they will still be subject to the "Genuine Temporary Entrant" or GTE requirement.

The GTE requirement allows the Department of Immigration a significant level of discretion in assessing student visa applications. As a result, students may still be asked to provide documentary evidence of their funds and English language ability, and may be asked to do an interview to establish they have a genuine intention to study in Australia.

Assessment Level 1 students can apply for student visas online, and can apply for an initial student visa onshore whilst holding a variety of temporary visas. Assessment Level 2-5 students still are not able to do so, despite the 24 March changes.

Assessment Level 2-5 students are still subject to possible limitations on including family members and imposition of a "no further stay" condition on their student visas.

More Flexible Work Rights for Students

Previously, students could work for up to 20 hours per week during semester, and full-time in semester break.

After 26 March, they can work for up to 40 hours per fortnight during semester. This gives students considerably more flexibility, as students can work more than 20 hours per week if necessary, providing they work less the second week.

A fortnight is defined as a 14 day period starting on a Monday. The changes affect student visas in effect on or after 26 March 2012, and any granted after this date.

These changes also flow through to dependents of student visa holders - they can now work for 40 hours per fortnight, whether in semester or during semester break.

Masters and Doctorate Students

From 26 March, students studying PhDs or Masters by Research are now able to work full-time once they commence their course. This is a significant advantage, as previously they were limited to 20 hours per week during semester.

Dependents of Masters and Doctorate students continue to be able to work full time.

Conclusion

The changes to student visas make life easier for students completing higher qualifications in Australia. Students considering vocational studies in Australia may find it advantageous to look at package courses which involve them completing qualifications at the bachelor level or higher.

In addition to making the initial student visa easier to obtain, studying at the bachelor-level or higher makes it possible to obtain a graduate work visa and may increase your chances of obtaining permanent residence through the General Skilled or Employer Sponsored streams.

Please contact Acacia if you would like to discuss your Australian visa options.

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