AUSTRALIA: Foreigners face stringent tests

In a crackdown on visa fraud, the federal government has imposed stringent tests on foreign students from five large source countries who enrol in Australian onshore education institutions.

Those from the target countries will face interviews and have restricted access to visa applications online.

The changes, which already apply to students from China, were announced by Immigration Minister Chris Evans and will include students from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Brazil and Zimbabwe.

China and India are Australia's two largest source countries for foreign students whose fees contribute billions of dollars a year to the national economy. But applications for student visas from countries around the globe have risen sharply in the past 12 months as word seems to have spread that this is a fast and cheap way of gaining permanent residency.

The Immigration Department received more than 360,000 applications in the year to 30 June and of these 28,000 were rejected. Evans said there was concern about the size of the increase and the number of applications being rejected.

"The message is clear: graduate international students remain welcome in Austrlalia but we will not tolerate fraud in the student visa programme."

Students believed to be at risk of cheating immigration requirements will face interviews to determine if they are legitimate. A one-off deposit of cash in a bank account and enrolment in lesser-known and possibly suspect institutions are likely to lead to extra scrutiny of students by immigration officials.

Under the new rules applying to students from the five countries, online visa applications will be restricted and migration agents who have abused the e-Visa system with false documentation may be blocked.

All prospective students must prove they have A$12,000 (US$10,000) in a bank for living costs for every year of study, as well as the money needed to pay course fees.