21 July 2009

Minister announces new verification measures for Australian Student Visas

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The Australian Immigration minister, Chris Evans, on an important visit to India has made a frank admission that recent problems experienced by Indian students in Australia have exposed failings in the immigration and education systems.

The minister said new measures will be introduced to verify the skills of overseas students graduating from Australian colleges before they qualify for permanent residency.

"Currently there is no verification of the skills once the award of a qualification is made ... what we will be able to do is apply a job readiness test."

The level of English proficiency required to gain residency in Australia has been lifted recently and Mr Evans flagged more rigorous vetting of potential foreign students before they arrive for study in Australia.

Speaking in New Delhi at the start of a three day visit, Mr Evans said policy makers had been "slow to react" to the massive growth in overseas students arriving in the country on Australian Student Visas to do vocational courses and hoping to gain permanent residence.

"We haven't kept up with the growth, particularly in the vocational education area, there has been a huge increase in the numbers of students and we have not provided the public policy parameters or enough support to for the students and I think now Australian governments are working hard to address that," he said.

Senator Evans, the most senior minister to visit India since a series of attacks on Indians in Australia, arrived amid reports of fresh attacks in Wollongong and Adelaide. Attacks on Indian students have received blanket coverage in India since late May, seriously damaging the country's reputation as an education provider and the attractiveness of studying in Australia.

Mr Evens said the crisis had exposed problems in some aspects of both immigration and education policy, especially the process that allows overseas students who have gained a qualification in Australia to apply for permanent residency.

"There is no doubt we could have done things better and that we have not seen the public policy responses to the growth in the industry to make the industry sustainable long term," he said. "We are taking in people who are choosing us rather than us choosing them."

Mr Evans said people have sought to market education to achieve an Australian visa outcome and too many poor students have been enticed to study in the country on the promise of an Australian visa.

"We've got to break the link that occurs in some people's mind between getting an education and getting a permanent visa. We should determine who we issue visas to based on the skills Australia needs, not the other way around. I think at the moment we have not got that policy setting quite right. That's why I have made a number of changes to those policies and will be making a more."

Mr Evans will meet with several senior Indian minister and officials to assure them that studying in Australia is safe and outline steps that are being taken by the Australian government to improve immigration and education systems.


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