A visa framework that supports international students in their studies

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Urgent changes to Australia’s visa framework are required to support international students to complete their studies.

The changes are being recommended by the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA), the peak body representing independent providers in the skills training, higher education, and international education sectors.

“Currently, some international students are opting not to complete their studies but are able to stay and work in Australia via transferring to the Subclass 408 visa.  This isn’t the best outcome for students, as they came to Australia to undertake studies and we want the visa framework to support students in this,” said Troy Williams, ITECA Chief Executive.

The Subclass 408 visa is a temporary visa that was widely used during the COVID-19 pandemic for those living and working in Australia on temporary visas that were set to expire.  Originally, it allowed those from overseas to stay in Australia for an additional twelve months if they couldn’t go home due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and they had no other visa options.

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“The challenge is that the Subclass 408 visa eligibility has been successively amended in its scope, with minimal consultation, by the Australian Department of Home Affairs. Today, students are able to quickly transfer to a Subclass 408 visa from their student visa and be permitted to stay in Australia to undertake work.  When they do this, they often abandon their studies while still owing money to their education provider and with no intention of paying,” Mr Williams said.

With an increasing number of students accessing Subclass 408 visas to work rather than study, ITECA is calling for urgent intervention by the Australian Government.  ITECA has made two key recommendations to the Australian Government. The first is that international students would only be able to access the Subclass 408 visa upon completion of their studies. Second, ITECA’s view is that once a student moves onto the Subclass 408 visa they should not be able to apply for a subsequent or new visa while in Australia.

ITECA has set out the reforms to formal advice to the Minister for Immigration.

“ITECA is recommending an important student-centric change to the visa system.  Encouraging international students to complete their studies before taking up full-time work fosters a foundation of knowledge and expertise, empowering them to contribute meaningfully to their home countries.  Education lays the groundwork for long-term success, equipping individuals with the skills to drive positive change globally,” Mr Williams said.

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This, the ITECA believes, is a critical issue for independent tertiary education providers that support international students – and with independent providers supporting 55 per cent of all international student enrolments in tertiary education – more than 404,000 enrolments – the number of people affected is significant.

“ITECA wants to put students at the heart of the international education sector and the associated visa framework.  These challenges are not the fault of students. When a student comes here to study, we want a visa framework that best supports students by better enabling them to complete their course.  If the student wants to apply for a Subclass 408 visa, this option should be available to them only upon course completion and only once,” Mr Williams said.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live