Australia tightens student visa rules this week amid record migration. Will it affect Indian students?

This comes amid reports that many universities were rejecting visa applications

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Just as Australia hits a record migration level -  the country's population surged by 2.5 per cent between September 2022 to September 2023  largely due to an increase in migrant workers and students - authorities are set to implement tighter visa rules, especially for international students, from this week. 

From Saturday, the visa norms will include implementing English language requirements and a "genuine student test" for international students. The government will also have the power to suspend education providers from recruiting foreign students if they repeatedly break the rules, according to Reuters.

The "genuine student test" will be a means to crack down on international students who look to come to Australia primarily to work. Authorities will also impose "no further stay" conditions on visitor visas. 

"The actions this weekend will continue to drive migration levels down while delivering on our commitments in the migration strategy to fix the broken system we inherited," Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil said in a statement.

The regulations to curb migration were introduced last December. The government had planned new measures, including higher scores on English proficiency tests for student visas. The required IELTS score for a Temporary Graduate visa will increase from 6.0 to 6.5. For a Student visa, the IELTS score requirement will go up from 5.5 to 6.0. Students taking an English Language Intensive Course for Overseas Students (ELICOS) before their main study must score 5.0 (up from 4.5). Students in university foundation or pathway programs need an IELTS score of 5.5.

Other measures included increased scrutiny of applications from high-risk providers, acknowledging the post-study migration pathways, and investing $19 million to bolster the student visa integrity unit. This will reduce the misuse of student visas by those seeking to exploit international students.

Just after Australia boosted its annual migration numbers in 2022 to fill the shortages that occurred due to COVID-19 controls, there was a sudden influx of foreign workers and students which put increased pressure on an already tight rental market. 

The data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday showed net immigration rose 60% to a record 548,800 in the year to Sept. 30, 2023, higher than the 518,000 people in the year ending June 2023.

Overall, Australia's population rose 2.5% - the fastest pace on record - to 26.8 million people in the year to last September. The record migration - driven by students from India, China and the Philippines - has expanded labour supply and restrained wage pressure.

While Indian students form a large chunk of migrant students, there are concerns as to whether the changes in visa rules will affect the hordes of Indian students. 

According to Monica Kennedy, Senior Trade & Investment Commissioner, Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade), Australian Government, the Department of Home Affairs (Australia) granted 382,000 student visas between July 2022 and February 2023. "This is a 41.3 per cent increase compared to the same period of 2019-2020," said Kennedy. 

In January-May 2023 alone, Australia welcomed 47,759 Indian students. 

This comes amid reports from Australia that there was a surge in visa rejections due to some universities withdrawing admission offers. According to a report by Times Higher Education, the University of Wollongong and La Trobe University have retracted offers to students who did not have a strong application. However, a report by The Indian Express claimed La Trobe denied the allegations. In many cases, the reason for rejecting the visa has not been clear.

Besides Australia, Canada, and the UK too introduced visa restrictions recently. This could also mean that students could increasingly opt for the US and other European countries for higher education.

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