04 November 2011

Australia reports rapid decline in offshore student visas

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The Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship's Annual Report 2010-11 has revealed the extent of the decrease in offshore student visa applications and grants.

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DIAC annual report shows slump in student visa grants in 2010-11, particularly from Indian nationals.

Demand for a student Australia visa has fallen sharply in the financial year 2010-11 despite efforts by the Australian Government to ensure continued growth in this key industry.

Australia awarded 126,186 student visa grants over the year, down from 158,240 in 2009-10, representing a 20.3 per cent decrease. Similarly, student visa finalisations fell 26.6 per cent to 143,127.

Furthermore, as of June 2011, there were 332,709 people in Australia on student visas, 13.1% less than in that same period in 2010.

The decline in the international student market is a blow to the Australian immigration system, considering the department regards foreign students as "important to Australia's future".

"The student visa program makes a significant contribution to the Australian economy and assists in maintaining sustainable education and tourism industries through the temporary entry to Australia of genuine international students," the report states.

The department attributes the decline to a number of factors beyond the department's control, such as "the strength of the Australian dollar over this period, increased marketing activity by competitor countries, college closures creating uncertainty about the stability of Australian education providers, and the decoupling of education and general skilled migration".

The demand can also be attributed to a substantial decline in the number of Indian students, with enrolments down 36.5 per cent. The official response to the diminishing Indian demand contained in the annual report is that it is "the result of a high concentration of students with the vocational education and training (VET) sector which was most affected by measures to de-couple study in Australia from permanent residence".

While these factors may have played a part, various sources suggest the decline is also in response to a spate of violence in Australia towards Indian students in 2010, and a perception - particularly in the Indian news media - of an Australian racism and or prejudice towards Indians.

Tourism Australia feels this is a definite factor in a lack of demand for visas of all kinds by Indians. The body has launched a campaign to reignite interest in travelling to and studying in Australia. Managing Director Andrew McEvoy is on the record saying the attacks had a disastrous impact on Australia's image domestically in India.

The Australian federal opposition has also acknowledged this factor in declining Indian demand.

"I hope that this campaign will finally repair the significant damage to the reputation of Australia that was caused by stories of foreign students working under award-paid menial jobs, suffering racism and assault, and being exploited by landlords," said shadow minister for tourism Bob Baldwin.

Despite this admission by key government and political figures, the DIAC annual report makes no mention of this factor.

Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy that specialises in helping people lodge applications with the Australian High Commission.

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