If you’re an overseas student, Australia offers a wealth of educational opportunities.
However, if you’re hoping to come to Australia to study, you must first obtain the right visa. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) is the Australian government department that oversees the issuing of visas to prospective overseas students.
If the course you want to complete is of more than three months’ duration, a visitor’s visa will not be sufficient. Students need to obtain Australian student visas, but the process can seem complicated.
Applying for an Australian student visa
There are 8 main visas that allow you to come to Australia to study. Knowing which visa to apply for is crucial to the success of your application. A failed visa application can count against you if you then make a further visa application. For that reason, you should proceed with caution and make sure that you satisfy all of the requirements of the particular visa you’re applying for prior to lodging your application.
Applications are lodged online via the DIBP’s website at www.border.gov.au. Most Australian student visa applications carry a fee of AUD $535, though there are some exemptions.
The fee is payable in addition to your course fees or enrolment fees.
What student visas can you apply for?
When you’re applying for an Australian student visa you’ll be faced with an array of visa options. The types of visa open to you depend on whether your course involves:
• University-based learning leading to an ‘award’ (eg. recognised Australian qualifications such as a Diploma, Bachelors Degree, Masters, Doctoral or Post-Doctoral studies);
• Other higher education providers where the course doesn’t necessarily lead to an award;
• Practical, trades-based or vocational learning; or
• Education at primary or secondary school level.
Briefly, here’s a thumbnail sketch of the Australian student visas that you might be eligible to apply for:
Higher Education Sector Visa (subclass 573)
You might be eligible for this visa if you’ve been accepted into full time study at a participating approved a university or recognised higher educational provider. This visa is only open to you if the course that you’re enrolled in is an award course. In other words, you must qualify for a Bachelors degree, Graduate diploma or Graduate Certificate, Masters Degree (by Coursework), Advanced Diploma or Higher Education diploma. This visa enables you to support yourself by working up to 40 hours a fortnight during the semester and for unlimited hours during the breaks between semesters.
Postgraduate Research Sector Visa (subclass 574)
As the name suggests, this visa applies if you want to come to Australia for the purpose of undertaking post-graduate research. It’s open to you if you’ve already completed a Bachelors, Masters or Doctoral Degree (PhD). These visas differ in terms of length according to the course you’ve already completed.
Non Award Sector Visa (subclass 575)
This allows you to come to Australia for the purpose of completing a full-time course that won’t lead to a recognised Australian award (qualification).
Independent ELICOS Sector Visa (subclass 570)
The Independent ELICOS Sector visa allows you to come to Australia to complete an English language course. ELICOS stands for English language intensive course for overseas students.
School Sector Visa (subclass 571)
The School Sector visa allows you to come to Australia as part of a student exchange program, or to attend an Australian primary or secondary school. It doesn’t apply to you if you want to undertake tertiary studies. If you’re under the age of 18, it’s only natural that you might want be accompanied by a parent or guardian. There is a specific visa that can be obtained in that case: The Student Guardian visa (subclass 580).
Vocational Education and Training Sector Visa (subclass 572)
Unlike the other Australian student visas, this visa recognizes the value in allowing you to come to Australia to learn a trade, get a diploma or a vocational certificate.
Training and Research Visa (subclass 402)
This visa has three sub-categories:
1. Occupational Trainee Stream (involves workplace training in your chosen occupation or field of study),
2. Professional Development Stream (allows you to complete a professional development course in Australia), and
3. Research Stream (which enables you to take up an invitation to participate in a research project here in Australia).
Temporary Graduate Visa (subclass 485)
This visa allows you to stay at the conclusion of your course for the purpose of obtaining relevant work experience in your chosen field.
Eligibility to apply for an Australian student visa
So, how do you know which one is the right visa to suit your circumstances and whether your application for an Australian student visa will be successful? It all boils down to what you want to study, the level at which you will be studying, the duration of your course and your country of origin. Student visas are available to applicants from approximately 190 countries.
If you apply for an Australian student visa, you will have to satisfy the DIBP as to a number of prerequisites, depending on which visa you’re applying for. The DIBP will check that:
• You’re enrolled in the right kind of course,
• That you have reached a certain level of competency in English language,
• That you have the means to support yourself for the duration of your stay in Australia,
• That you have adequate health insurance cover (an overseas student health insurance policy), and
• That you have passed a risk assessment.
Enrolment in an Australian course
To apply for a student visa, you must have enrolled in the right kind of course for that visa. The course provider must be a recognised institution or higher education course provider. You’ll need to provide proof of your acceptance into the course and enrolment. A confirmation of enrolment form is usually adequate proof of enrolment. The range of visas currently open to overseas students depends on the nature of your course.
However, you can ‘package courses’: In other words, you can enroll to do a number of successive courses, such as an English language intensive course for overseas students (ELICOS), followed by a Bachelors degree or other course. This means that you can undertake courses to which separate Australian student visas would normally apply, but there are some specific requirements that you’ll have to satisfy.
Competency in English language
In most cases, the success of your Australian student visa application depends on whether you’ve passed an English Language test. You can undertake the course from anywhere in the world. Some of the approved tests are paper-based and others are online or internet-based tests. A full list of approved tests is on the DIBP website.
The DIBP specifically accepts the following English language test results:
• the Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL) which is an online, internet based test (iBT),
• the Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic
• the Cambridge English Advanced Test (CAE), also called the Certificate in Advanced English
• the International English Language Testing Systems test ((IELTS) and the
• Occupational English Test (OET)
There are some countries that don’t offer the IELTS test. If you’re from one of those countries, the DIBP will accept a paper-based Test of English as a Foreign Language instead.
Sufficient funds to cover living costs whilst in Australia
If you’re applying for an Australian student visa you need to prove to the DIBP that you have sufficient means to support yourself for the duration of your stay. Studying in Australia means that you will have to be able to pay for your food, accommodation and transportation. You also need to be in a position to be able to purchase a return flight home to your country of origin. The DIBP can make quite extensive inquiries in relation to your capacity to support yourself. For example, you might be asked for more information about, and verification of, the source of your income or your employment history. As it stands, the DIBP would expect that you have access to approximately AUD $18,610 for each year that you will remain in Australia.
Overseas Student Health Insurance coverage
As part of your application for an Australian student visa, you will have to prove that you have taken out an Overseas Student Health Insurance policy. Your policy must be sufficient and must cover you for the duration of your stay in Australia. This is because you will not be eligible to receive Medicare or Social Security (Centrelink) benefits whilst studying here in Australia.
Australian student visa risk assessment
In most cases, you’ll also have to pass a risk assessment in order to obtain an Australian Student visa. The DIBP looks at what they call your ‘immigration risk’.
Among other things, your immigration risk includes an assessment of the likelihood that you will breach the conditions of, or overstay, your visa. The DIBP does this by analyzing statistics. Those statistics are based on:
• Your country of origin, and
• the recent track record of students from that country in terms of their compliance with the terms and conditions of their student visas
You will be assigned a level of risk based on that analysis. There are currently 3 risk levels: AL1, AL2 and AL3. Level 1 is the lowest risk; level 3 is the highest risk. What does this means for you? It means that the higher the level of risk your student visa application has been assigned by the DIBP, the more hoops you’ll have to jump through before your visa application will be approved. If you’re assessed at AL3 you’ll need to provide considerably more documentary evidence to support your application for a student visa. It is possible to find out in advance what your assessment level is. There are tables that you can refer to on the DIBP website at www.border.gov.au
In some cases, you can almost bypass the risk assessment process. The DIBP offer a ‘streamlined visa processing’ route. Access to streamline student visa processing is entirely dependent on whether:
• your higher education course provider or university is participating in the scheme, and
• whether your course is an eligible course.
If your application is being processed in this manner, it will be the equivalent of having been assigned the lowest risk level (AL1).
Changes afoot in the processing of Australian student visa applications
This is intended to be a general discussion of the Australian student visas currently open to you if you’re an overseas student. It’s important to note that this is likely to change by mid-2016. At that point it’s anticipated more of the recommendations of the Future Directions for Streamlined Visa Processing report will be put in place. This may have the effect of reducing the number of available student visas down to two visa subclasses. If so, it will be in the hope of achieving a more streamlined process, called the ‘simplified international student visa framework’, or SSVF.
Applying for the right Australian student visas can be a stressful and difficult process. For that reason, getting professional advice to guide you through the process from a trusted and reputable immigration lawyer or migration agent is a sensible investment in your future.