When eight becomes two: Student visas on 1 July 2016

Last week, legislation was passed to implement two key recommendations from the June 2015, Future directions for streamlined visa processing report. These are to reduce the number of different student visas from eight to two, and to implement a combined country and provider risk framework. The new visa subclasses will be the Subclass 500 (Student) visa and Subclass 590 (Student Guardian) visa. These will begin on 1 July 2016.

Most importantly, there will be a new financial and English language assessment procedure to determine what standard of evidence is required. This will be guided by the course of study, the country of passport of the visa applicant, and the education institution they will be attending. There will be some flexibility for decision makers to take into account the individual circumstances of the visa applicant.

There will also be other amendments to make it clearer to student visa holders what kinds of courses they are allowed to change to and what kinds of courses will require a new application. This is to prevent students breaching visa condition 8516, which has caught many student visa holders switching from a streamlined visa processing (SVP) course to a non-SVP course. Student visas are likely to be cancelled as a result.

As part of the simplification process, there will be easier enrolments and the abolition that an applicant must hold a certain qualifying visa if applying in Australia. They will instead require that the visa applicant does not hold a certain visa that, as with many of the finer details, will be set by the Minister by legislative instrument closer to the date these visas will commence. The genuine temporary entrant criteria will remain as an integrity measure for all student visa applications.

The primary driver for this is the need, according to the report, to tweak the SVP programme as it was deemed “that SVP is not sustainable in its current form in the long term.” Some would say that this statement is an admission that they got it wrong when SVP was introduced on 24 March 2012. I doubt any one will hold their breath for confirmation.