International Students and Australian Visas

International Students common questions about Australian Visas and Immigration answered

How do the new student visa integrity measures affect international students? What are the Changes?

The main changes are around showing sufficient funds to study in Australia. There are two separate measures in relation to this:

Funds for living costs have increased from ,000 per month to ,500 per month. As a result, the amount of funds you need to show for a student visa extension may be much higher than you needed to show for your initial student visa
Students must show that they can actually access the funds shown. For example, if relying on bank accounts held by a relative, the Department of Immigration (DIAC) will often ask that you show that funds have actually been transferred to your account. If relying on a loan, DIAC may require you to show that the funds have been released to a bank account over which you have access.

However, it’s not all bad news. People undertaking research qualifications (ie masters by research and PhD) will now be at either Assessment Level 1 or 2 (Assessment Level 1 being the best). This will mean that the amount of funds you need to show might not be as high as for other types of qualifications.

Can subject choice improve your chances of immigration?

At the moment, if you have an occupation on the Critical Skills List (CSL), your application will be processed significantly faster than if you are not on the CSL. Examples of occupations on the CSL include secondary school teachers, nurses, engineers and accountants (provided you either have a minimum 7 in IELTS or have completed a professional year).

However, the rules for skilled migration are due to change significantly. The Department of Immigration is concerned that students have been choosing courses which are good for immigration, not in occupations which they intend to work in the future. There has been a significant growth in the vocational sector in particular – in courses such as hairdressing and cookery – which have until now been good for migration.

In addition, the Department of Immigration is giving higher and higher priority to employer sponsored applications.

As a result, the best advice is to do a course which you are genuinely interested in and in which you have a good chance of obtaining employment in Australia.

When is the new Skilled Occupations List coming out? When will it come into effect?

Skills Australia has reported to the Department of Immigration on their recommendations for the new list on 30 April 2010. However, the suggested list was not released at this time. The Department of Immigration has announced that the list will be published in May 2010.

The list is due to come into effect in “mid 2010″. Many have speculated that this means 1 July 2010, but there has been no confirmation of the exact date. It is possible that the list will come into effect at the same time as it is announced.

The current Skilled Occupations List has some 400 occupations on it. Our best guess is that the new list will have around 200 occupations on it. Skills Australia produced a list called the specialised occupations list. It is possible that this will form the basis of the new skilled occupations list. The specialized occupations list included the following types of occupations:

Building & Engineering
Medical – doctors, nurses
School teachers & academics
Accountants and Auditors (CPA or equivalent)
Legal Professionals

There are only a few trade occupations on the list, and the future of students completing vocational courses in Australia is far from clear.

What happens if I am not on the new Skilled Occupations List?

If your occupation is not on the new SOL, it is still possible to apply for:

A skilled graduate subclass 485 visa
State nominated skilled visas
Employer sponsorship

Unless you had already applied for a graduate skilled visa as of the 8th of February 2010, you will only be able to apply for the following types of visa if you are on the new list:

Skilled independent
Family sponsored skilled visas

So you should still be able to apply for a graduate skilled visa after your course is finished, providing you meet the necessary requirements, even if you are not on the new SOL. Once on the graduate skilled visa, you have full work rights for 18 months. Provided you find either an employer or state government willing to sponsor you during this time, you can still apply for permanent residence.

How are the points calculated?

The main elements of the current points test are:

Occupation: either 40, 50 or 60 points
Age: 30 if you are under 30, down to 15 if you are between 40 and 44
English language ability: 25 for IELTS 7 minimum, or 15 if 6 minimum
Study in Australia: 5 for a course taking 2 years, up to 25 if you have completed a PhD in Australia
Work experience in Australia: 10 for working in your occupation for a year or 10 for completing a professional year
Skilled Spouse: 5 points
Language other than English: 5 if you have passed the NAATI test as a translator or interpreter, or have a degree taught in the language
State Nomination: 10 points

We have an online points test calculator on our website.

Note that the Department of Immigration is conducting a review of the points test. Recommendations are due in June 2010, and the following changes have been discussed:

Making all occupations worth the same number of points
Giving more points for higher levels of English
Giving more points for longer periods of employment
Increasing spouse skills points
What are the specific procedures for general skilled migration application?

There are generally 3-4 main stages of the application:

Skills Assessment: this is a process of having your qualifications assessed, and in some cases you also need to provide evidence of English and work experience. The exact procedure depends on your occupation. Generally this takes 2-3 months to complete and you must have a completed skills assessment to apply for a permanent general skilled migration visa
Skilled Graduate Subclass 485 visa: because the skills assessment can take some time, many students will need to apply for a 485 visa to ensure that they have enough time to complete the necessary processes to apply for their permanent skilled visas. A 485 visa requires you to have completed a qualification taking 2 years of study in Australia, 6 minimum for IELTS and to have lodged your application for skills assessment.
State Nomination: This is an optional process, but may be necessary if you do not otherwise have sufficient points to qualify. It can also significantly speed up processing of your application. Generally, the state will require a skills assessment and evidence of English. States have different criteria, and some also require evidence of funds to settle in Australia, work experience in the state, and in some cases study or residence in the state.
Permanent Skilled Application: for this you’ll need a completed skills assessment, evidence of English, health and police checks and evidence of your studies in Australia. This stage is currently relatively fast if you have a CSL occupation, but can take 2-3 years if you are not on the CSL.
What is the minimum required mark in the dreaded IELTS test?

This will depend on which visa type you are trying to apply for:

Skilled Independent: to meet the pass mark, you’ll need a minimum of 7 in all 4 components unless you have previous work experience (Proficient English)
Skilled Graduate: a minimum of 6 in all 4 components (Competent English)
Skilled Regional Sponsored: average of 6 (Concessional Competent English)
Employer Nomination Scheme: minimum of 5 in all 4 components (Vocational English)
Regional Skilled Migration Scheme: average of 4.5 (Functional English)

Most types of application require you to show the level of English at the date of application – so you need to plan ahead and make sure you don’t leave your English test till the last minute.

Note also that some skills assessing authorities require a higher level of English. For example, accountants will need to show that they have at least 7 in all 4 components of the Academic IELTS from 1 July 2010.

What are the compulsory requirements for student visas and the Do’s and Do-not’s of a student visa?

There are a number of very important student conditions you need to comply with. Non-compliance with these conditions can result in cancellation of you student visa:

Work Restriction 8105: This allows you to work for 20 hours per week during semester and full time in semester break. The work rights start once you commence your course. After completion of your course, you can generally work full time if you have applied for an onshore skilled visa.
Satisfactory Academic Progress 8202: This requires you to maintain your enrollment, attend your classes and pass your assignments. In some circumstances (eg health reasons), it is possible to defer for a semester, but in most cases, the Department of Immigration will expect you to depart Australia during the deferral
Notify Change of Address 8533: You need to tell your education provider within 7 days if you change address. This is important as any correspondence from the Department of Immigration will also be sent to the last address you gave to your education provider

Mark Webster is the Director and founder of Acacia Immigration Australia and President of the Migration Institute of Australia (MIA)-NSW and ACT.