By Senator Michaelia Cash — The Abbott Government places a high importance on Australia’s international education sector – it is our largest services export and a key pillar of Australia’s economic growth and future prosperity. International students bring many benefits to Australia, both economically and culturally, and will always be welcome in our country.
Since coming to office the Government has made it a priority to rebuild the international education sector and undo the damage caused by Labor where the export value of the sector fell by $1.8 billion over the three year period to 2012-13. Under the Coalition the sector has rebounded strongly and, based on preliminary figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, grown by $3.5 billion to a record high of $18.1 billion in 2014-15.
This strong performance is just the beginning. In April 2015, Minister Pyne released Australia’s first ever Draft National Strategy for International Education. The strategy sets an ambitious whole of government agenda for the sustainable growth of Australia’s international education sector.
Student visa settings are an important component of Australia’s international education strategy. It is vital that visa settings are competitive and that the process of obtaining a visa is a simple as possible for genuine students. It is also highly important that the visa programme maintains high levels of immigration integrity.
To this end, on 16 June 2015 the Government announced the introduction of a simplified international student visa framework (SSVF), to commence from mid-2016. Key reforms under the SSVF include a reduction in the number of student visa subclasses from eight to two (one student visa and a student guardian visa) and the introduction of a simplified single immigration risk framework for all international students.
The SSVF will mean a broader, simpler, fairer framework for both international students and Australian education providers. It will benefit Australia’s international education sector through reduced red-tape, a visa framework that is simpler to navigate and a more targeted approach to immigration integrity.
Under the SSVF students will no longer be subject to the complexity of the current process which requires them to determine the correct visa subclass to apply for and which risk framework – either the Assessment Level framework or Streamlined Visa Processing (SVP) – they will be assessed against. Instead students will apply for a single student visa subclass and be assessed under a single immigration risk framework.
The single immigration risk framework will guide a student’s financial and English language evidentiary requirements based on the immigration risk outcomes of their country of citizenship and intended education provider. Where the combination of these factors indicates lower risk, the student will have ‘streamlined evidentiary requirements’ and will generally not need to provide evidence of financial and English language capacity with their visa application. Based on modelling from 2013-14, approximately 85 per cent of students would have ‘streamlined evidentiary requirements’ under the SSVF. Importantly, these efficiencies will be achieved without compromising the integrity of the student visa programme.
The SSVF will also considerably benefit education providers. While the existing SVP arrangements have contributed to strong levels of growth, these arrangements have also created perceived market inequalities and high levels of red-tape. The SSVF will address these issues by creating a more level playing field for education providers and by unwinding many of the burdensome requirements imposed on providers by SVP.
The SSVF represents an exciting opportunity to build on Australia’s international competitiveness and the Government is working closely with the international education sector to ensure that it is implemented effectively. A strong international education sector means more Australian jobs and broader benefits for the community. The SSVF will have a key role to play in the future success of this important sector.
Senator Michaelia Cash is the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women.