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Australia streamlines visa assessment levels

Australia streamlines visa assessment levels 
Australia’s new government has announced measures to support international education including simplifying the country’s student visa assessment level framework and offering streamlined visa processing to 22 non-university providers.
Unveiling the measures, due to commence in early 2014 subject to relevant legislative change, Christopher Pyne, Minister for Education, and Scott Morrison, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, said the moves were intended to undo damage caused to the sector under the previous administration. 
The streamlining of assessment levels will see the current five levels reduced down to three. Currently no countries or education sectors are at AL5, and all those at AL4 will be reduced down to AL3. Alongside the proposals, the government released a report of the review of the framework, which had been shelved by the previous government.
Furthermore, the proposals will see the financial means evidence required for an AL3 student visa applicant reduced from 18 months to 12 months, provided funds were from a close relative. “This would mean students from a number of key markets would be able to apply for a student visa with up to AUS$40,000 (US$38,000) less in the bank,” said Morrison. 
Sue Blundell, English Australia Executive Director, welcomed the framework measures. “The merger of AL4 countries into the AL3 category will allow students from those countries who package English with further study to start with a lower level of English and study for longer in their English programme, and of course the reduction in the financial evidence from 18 months to 12 months will be appreciated by students across all sectors.”
Ben Vivekanandan, Acting Chief Executive Office of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (Acpet), said, “These proposals, when implemented, will help drive Australia’s competitiveness and attractiveness as a destination for international students.”
The government has also announced that 22 low-risk, non-university providers for students enrolled in Bachelor, Masters or Doctoral courses will be offered streamlined visa processing (SVP), allowing them to treat all applications as AL1, a privilege currently restricted to universities only. The as-yet unnamed institutions will receive invitations in coming weeks. 
“The non-university sector is an important contributor to our overall education exports,” said Minister Pyne. “If we cut red tape and allow more students into Australia to access a world-class tertiary education we all stand to gain.” 
However, Vivekanandan said the government was sending mixed messages and that Acpet was disappointed with such a small number of institutions being offered SVP. “This decision will negatively impact much of the sector,” he said, and called for clarity in how these institutions were chosen. “It is critical that we hear what measures the government will put in place, and when, to extend improved visa arrangements to all high-quality, low immigration risk providers.” 
Blundell was more cautious regarding this measure. “Extending SVP will only create greater division between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. English Australia is looking to discuss alternative options that will be more sustainable in the long term.” 
The measures are the first major international education policy announcement of Australia’s new administration. “We are pleased to see the new government acting so quickly to back up its positive statements about international education with some real action,” said Blundell. “This is sending the message that they mean business and we are confident that they will take further steps in consultation with the industry to drive additional positive initiatives.” 
She added that the new measures were welcome first steps and that English Australia was continuing to lobby for changes including a review of the Genuine Temporary Entrant criteriathe removal of the Subsequent Temporary Application charge and a review of the student visa fee framework.

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