Processing glitches and doubts about students’ intentions have been blamed for a spike in visa rejections by Australian bureaucrats.
Education agents who say their clients are rarely denied visas are reporting a surge in refusals, as immigration officials struggle to cope with burgeoning applications from South Asia.
The problem partly reflects a lack of local knowledge among processing staff, as Indian-based authorities cope with a logjam of applications by seeking help from immigration offices elsewhere in the world, Times Higher Education has been told.
But agents are also blaming the over-zealous application of Australia’s genuine temporary entrant (GTE) test, which requires processing staff to reject visa applications from people suspected of harbouring aspirations to settle permanently.
Ravi Lochan Singh, president of the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India (AAERI), said authorities used the “statement of purpose” – which visa applicants are required to submit as proof of their intention to leave Australia – “to find reasons to refuse a visa”.
He told an AAERI forum that agencies had received visa refusals “left, right and centre on GTE grounds” over the previous 15 days.
Mr Singh said students enrolled with universities approved for “streamlined visa processing” were also being asked for detailed financial documentation, even though such evidence was not required from people attending these institutions.
“Students are being asked to provide three-year financials [and a] one-year itemised bank statement,” he said. “Even my mortgage broker doesn’t ask me for an itemised bank statement.”
The Illawarra Mercury reported that around 80 South Asian students, many enrolled with the University of Wollongong, had been refused visas. They included an engineering undergraduate who had completed almost a semester of online study before receiving his refusal letter this month.
“The letter said that the government couldn’t be sure if I would go back to my home country after the degree, even though I provided all documentation they asked for,” he was quoted as saying.
Other students said they had provided proof of strong ties and family businesses back home. A Pakistani applicant said he had submitted a financial statement showing assets of more than A$60,000 (£34,000) but had been rejected because of his country’s economic and political situation. “They said they were not convinced that I would choose employment in Pakistan over Australia and hence wouldn’t go back.”
Simon Jacobs, South Asia sales director with private education chain Navitas, said Australian visa processing had improved over the past five months. But “strange visa refusals that don’t seem to make any sense” remained commonplace, he told the Australian International Education Conference.
He said he suspected that officials were trying to “keep on top of processing times” as the application backlog grew.
Navitas’ general manager of marketing and sales, Neil Fitzroy, said he anticipated more “spurious” rejections over the next few months, with “genuine students getting caught up in the surge”.
Federal Labor member of parliament Julian Hill, a former executive director of international education in the Victorian state government, said he sympathised with immigration officials following the “irresponsible decision” to uncap work rights for current students.
“I don’t envy the task they’re going to have now, with a tsunami of applications, in sorting the wheat from the chaff – identifying the dodgy applications from the genuine ones,” he told THE.