Visas, another homework for governments towards international education and Latin America students. Part I. Australia

by Liliana Casallas

The United States, Cuba, France, Spain and the UK are the main host countries for Latin American students who choose to pursue higher education overseas. Each country has their own policy for student visas. Some of these countries have been working for years to establish a transparent and fair system for international students.

Meanwhile, students take into account eligibility, requirements, timings and the paper work process, additionally to other factors such obtaining a permit to work, visa extensions and the migration programme of the host country.

 Australia only hosts 1% of mobile students from Latin America. However, it is worth to review Australia’s immigration policy as it is one of the most recognized immigration systems and is a point of reference for other governments who intend to improve their systems such as the UK.

In 2008-2009, Australia processed 227,924 off-shore applications, 52% of those were online. The process to apply for student visas take up to 90 days depending on  the assessment level of the participant’s country of origin, which is a key element of the application process.

 Australia recognises the importance of being an attractive country for international students and is working on continuous changes to improve the integrity of the student visa program as well as to help streamline the visa application process.

 The US tags its immigration policy as “Secure borders, open doors”, which pursues the dual goals of keeping the US safe and of welcoming qualified students. The US government perceives international educational exchange as a good path to create interpersonal exchanges and cross cultural understanding that helps to create a more stable world.

 The governments are looking to strike the right balance between making the visa application process easier to genuine students while setting additional controls to avoid people who may abuse the system.

 Australia now seeks to assess students enrolling in more than one course, enabling the government to cancel visas that do not comply with the policy during their stay in the country. The Australian government increased the basic rate of living cost for international student from $12,000 to $18,000 a year, elevating the visa requirement for students to prove they have sufficient funds for living in Australia.

 Australia also established five assessment levels in the student visa program, which are related to the immigration risk level.  Assessment level 5 is the highest based on the calculated immigration risk posed by students from that country studying in any educational sector (Higher Education and Postgraduate Research). The level of assessment define the time and process of evaluation of the visa application.  See table 1, to review process time vs. current performance.

Students Assessment Level 1 Level 2 Level 3/4
75% processing time 14 days 21 days 90 days
Actual 75 percentile 15 days 21 days 71 days

Table 1: Students – performance against service standards

All assessment level 1 students outside Australia can apply online and it means that students from countries such as Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Peru are entitled to apply online for student visa for any study purposes (Higher education/Postgraduate research). However, as part of the measures to strengthen the integrity the interview program is upgraded in Brazil in order to confirm the genuineness of student visa applicants and to check financial capacity.

Students from assessment level 2 countries which include Argentina and Venezuela are able to apply online only for postgraduate research visas but they are required to apply through the standard application process for higher education programmes.  Other assessment level 2 countries such as Colombia and Ecuador are required to apply through the paper-based process in all circumstances.

Students from Cuba, Bolivia and Central America including Panama are assessment level 3 countries, which means they not only apply through the standard visa process but in effect, this requires applicants to submit a higher level of evidence to support their claims that they wish to study in Australia such as proof of funds for a 24 month stay.

According to table II, Colombia is the country with the most student visas issued to study in Australia, followed by Brazil. These figures do not include visas issued for postgraduate research studies, which is a small figure of 1293 visas issued since 2005 for this category for overall students in Latin America including Central America and Cuba.

Visas 2005-2006 2006-2007 2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010
Colombia 372 458 571 879 492
Brazil 234 54 367 377 202
Chile 97 87 137 333 155
Mexico 118 104 222 251 143
Peru 152 43 234 259 97
Venezuela 43 36 70 93 68
Ecuador 23 25 25 39 28
Argentina 26 37 20 38 11

Table. II. Visas issued to study in Australia for higher education students from Latin America.

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