College-jump students face visa crackdown

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Source; Higher Education,  The Australian January 29
IMMIGRATION authorities have begun to target overseas students who enter Australia with streamlined visas for university study but switch after arrival to cheaper private colleges.

The department is threatening to cancel visas unless students come up with an explanation in 14 days, according to a letter seen by the HES.

With a few recent exceptions, the streamlined visa system and its lower standard of proof is restricted to universities because they are seen as less risky from an immigration point of view.

Last May, the HES broke the story that some students, chiefly from the Indian subcontinent, were "jumping ship" to cheaper degree programs or diplomas at private colleges; universities and their education agents have been watching the trend with alarm.

A January 14 letter from the department's "student integrity unit" warns a student he is in breach of his visa conditions after having left a major public university for a private college outside the streamlined visa system.

Some students in this position were being told to return home and apply for another visa offshore, said Melbourne immigration agent Robert Chen.

Mr Chen, who is president of the Victoria and Tasmania branch of the Migration Institute of Australia, said this seemed "too harsh".

"Most students are on holiday - my concern is lots of people won't even see it. How do they respond in 14 days?," he said.

Mr Chen said the way the system worked, students would not know theirs was a streamlined or non-streamlined visa although he conceded those who switched from a degree program to a diploma might know this was not allowed.

An immigration spokesman said 1416 "advice letters" had been sent to students as part of an "education campaign".

These letters were not "a formal notice" that the department intended to cancel visas, the spokesman said.

In the letter seen by the HES, the department cites what looks like a catch all visa condition, 8516, saying "the (visa) holder must continue to be a person who would satisfy the primary or secondary criteria, as the case requires, for the grant of the visa.

"You are not enrolled in an eligible course with an eligible education provider as required under the terms for which your visa was granted, and you are now considered to be in breach of visa condition 8516".

The condition makes no specific reference to the streamlined visa system. However, the letter to students says "your visa was granted based on you having to meet a lower threshold of proof of your education history, English language ability, and financial capacity".

Last year, a Melbourne agent told the HES she knew of cases in which students had withdrawn from their university courses before the census date, got a refund, and enrolled in cheaper private colleges, some of which were offering a "spotter's fee" of $1000-$1500 per student.

Another agent, based in the Punjab, said part of the problem was that it had become so hard for many Indian students to get visas for the vocational and technical education courses to which they were more suited. There have been massive increases in offshore grants of higher education visas on the Indian subcontinent.

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