Australia: students switching to vocational courses for uncapped work rights

Australia: students switching to vocational courses for uncapped work rights

International students have been arriving in Australia on university courses and then switching to vocational or private colleges which have more flexible study options to benefit from the country’s uncapped work rights, an agent association has warned.

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Stakeholders have warned of system abuses ahead of the July 1 date for the reintroduction of the cap

President of agent association AAERI Ravi Lochan Singh said that the practice of switching has been facilitated by on-shore migration agents in Australia and has resulted in retention concerns for universities.

“This has also impacted the offshore education agents as they have been denied their commissions,” he added.

Universities Australia deputy chief executive Peter Chesworth told The PIE News that there are many reasons why students decide to change their study arrangements, including to meet their career interests at any given time or due to personal circumstances.

The PIE understands that there is currently no data that exists to illustrate the extent to which university students are switching to vocational pathways.

Australia lifted a 40-hour fortnightly work limit for international students in January last year, in the face of growing skills shortages. Some in the sector criticised the move saying it ‘could damage’ the country’s reputation.

“Unlimited work-rights have been a distraction for students”

Since, there have been concerns that the policy has led to a rise in non-genuine student visa applications, with organisations such as Navitas warning that “unscrupulous providers and agents” have been exploiting the policy.

Reports have also highlighted the role that some private for-profit institutions have allegedly played in facilitating exploitation of students, with some charging low student fees and turning a blind eye to student non-attendance at classes.

Australia’s government announced last year that it would put the cap back on the number of hours international students are permitted to work and from July 1, 2023, work restrictions for student visa holders will be re-introduced and limited at the increased rate of 48 hours per fortnight.

It is hoped this will ensure that student visa holders are able to focus on obtaining a quality Australian education and qualification, while remaining able to support themselves financially, gain valuable work experience, and contribute to Australia’s workforce needs.

“Universities support the cap on working hours to ensure students are receiving the full benefits of the world-class education they seek in Australia. This is what sets them up for a fulfilling and rewarding career, here or back home,” Universities Australia’s Chesworth said.

However, stakeholders have warned of system abuses ahead of the July 1 date for the reintroduction of the cap.

“It is true that unlimited work-rights currently allowed in Australia have been a distraction for students,” said Lochan Singh.

“AAERI has been recommending that there needs to be a cap on the number of part-time work during study semester,” he said.

“However I can confirm that strict code of conduct and advertising norms for our members has meant that we have no instance of any of our members who may have promoted the current arrangement for student visa as a de facto work visa,” Lochan Singh added.

Phil Honeywood, executive director at the International Education Association of Australia, noted that the country’s Home Affairs Department recently chaired the first meeting for the year of its longstanding Education Visa Consultative Committee.

“Noting abuses of the current uncapped work rights entitlement, peak body representatives strongly endorsed the government’s reinstatement from July 1, of a cap,” he said.

Honeywood noted that in other recent stakeholder forums with the federal government there has also been momentum gathering for education agents to be regulated.

“Such regulations would likely include penalty provisions for false advertising and abuses of Australia’s student visa system,” Honeywood added.

In a response to the department of education, Skills and Employment’s ‘ESOS Review 2022’ discussion paper, Universities Australia set out a series of recommendations around course transfers.

The response notes that Standard 7 of the National Code, which regulates overseas student transfers between providers, does not fully restrict students from transferring within six months of commencing their principal course.

However, it does prevent them from being able to do so automatically. Instead, they must apply to their existing provider and give an appropriate reason why the provider should release them.

Universities Australia’s recommendations include retaining a six-month restrictive period for principal courses and coordinating with the Department of Home Affairs to revise the Simplified Student Visa Framework to ensure a new provider assumes full SSVF risk for a transferred student.

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