Australia’s resurgent international education industry has hit a speed bump as immigration officials put up the shutters against students from the subcontinent.
Student visa grants declined at the end of last financial year, marking perhaps the first setback in the sector’s comeback from its 2009 crash.
Immigration Department data shows there were almost 375,000 international student visa holders in Australia at the end of June — the highest figure since the tail end of last decade’s enrolment boom. Monthly student visa applications climbed past 35,000 for the first time in four years, buoyed by growing interest from key markets.
But visa grants fell in the June quarter, reflecting a crackdown on students from India, Vietnam and Nepal. The number of visas handed out to students from these countries fell last year by 13 per cent, 18 per cent and 16 per cent respectively.
The International Education Association of Australia said five years of cumulative growth had been “heartening” for the sector.
“However, clearly the Immigration Department has acted on concerns around genuine student applications over the past few months,” executive director Phil Honeywood said. Officials were imposing “stronger discipline” in the application of the genuine temporary entrant test, which gauges students’ academic and financial capacity to live and study in Australia.
“Notwithstanding these interventions we’re still seeing robust growth out of China and other strong markets such as Brazil, Taiwan and Colombia,” Mr Honeywood said.
Visa grants rose by 9 per cent for students from China and 8 per cent for Brazil, which leapfrogged Vietnam to become Australia’s fourth top market.
Mr Honeywood sounded a note of caution over Australia’s reliance on China, which attracted more than 65,000 visa grants in 2014-15. “We are still overly focused on two or three key markets, and our curriculum is in danger of becoming stale.”
Visa grants to school students rose 29 per cent in the June quarter, suggesting the sector will be an important pipeline. But enrolments from Brazil could dwindle thanks to next year’s freezing of its Science without Borders program, while Indian students are looking to the US following Barack Obama’s bid to introduce a six-year post study work visa for science and technology graduates.