Australian visa bottlenecks distress Indian students

Indian students are set to become the largest group of foreign students in Australia this year as the intake from China sees a decline due to deteriorating ties between the two countries. But Indian students have been complaining of severe bottlenecks as the Australian authorities try to process visa applications in time.

A large number of Indian students have lobbied Indian authorities saying they faced hardship due to the slow processing of their visas by Australian authorities, which also affected their future prospects.

Last week Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was in Australia and requested the Australian government to clear the visa backlog, particularly for students.

Jaishankar given assurances

Jaishankar said he received assurances from the Australian government that the visa backlog would be cleared by the end of the year. Australia’s new academic year commences in January.

The visa delays have resulted from a rush of visa applications after Australia opened its borders after two years of closures due to the pandemic. Some students complain they have had to wait 12 to 15 months and have had to defer their university entry. However, other students said they waited six to seven months for an Australian student visa.

In Canberra, Jaishankar held talks with various ministers regarding the visas and was told the situation “had improved”.

While interacting with the Indian community at an event in Sydney on 12 October, Jaishankar said Australian officials told him the backlog would be cleared by the end of this year and the problem of Indian students trying to return to Australia after the COVID-19 pandemic would be resolved.

There are currently around 105,000 Indian students studying in Australian universities and 77,000 have managed to get a visa and return to Australia.

In June this year India’s External Affairs Ministry formally took up the issue with Australian diplomats, and with some other countries including Canada, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, following numerous complaints from students who were seeking visas either to return to educational institutions abroad or join new courses. Ministry officials requested “predictability” from Australian diplomats for the visa process.

One student applying for an Australian visa said, while requesting anonymity: “I am yet to receive a response from the embassy for my visa application. Many of my friends are facing similar issues.”

“It seems that the situation is not going to improve in the near future and I may have to waste a year here in India,” he added.

On 20 July Australian Minister of Education Jason Clare assured his Indian counterpart, Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, that visa-related issues would be expeditiously resolved for students enrolled in Australian universities and educational institutions.

Arrivals from India increasing rapidly

Monica Kennedy, senior trade and investment commissioner at the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade), told The Hindu newspaper that the number of new arrivals from India was rising very swiftly, and she assumed this to be the largest group from anywhere in the world.

The data compiled by the Australian government’s Department of Education revealed that a total of 570,626 foreign students reached Australia for higher studies in one year between January 2021 and December 2021.

However, compared to 2020 during the COVID-19 outbreak, there was a fall in the number of students coming to Australia from most countries. China accounted for 170,000 or 30% of all foreign students in Australia, while India’s share was 97,000 or 17%.

Besides Australia, the number of Chinese students is also declining in the US and – according to a new report last month by the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing based Chinese non-governmental think tank – this could be due to worsening China-US ties.

However, more Chinese students may switch to Europe and Asia due to favourable study atmospheres and visa policies, it said.

The report revealed that the number of Chinese students in the US in the 2020-21 academic year saw the first decline in 10 years, falling 14.6% from 2019-20. The number of Chinese students in Australia decreased for two years, with a drop of 11.9% in 2021 and 9.9% in 2020.

Kennedy said while the number of new student arrivals from India between July 2021 and June 2022 – the Australian financial year – dipped marginally compared to 45,000 seen in 2019, the size of the Indian student cohort relative to new arrivals from China has shown growth.

Jaishanker also took up the issue of visa processing times during a visit to New Zealand on 6 October, where Indian students rank second in terms of the number of foreign nationals enrolling in higher education.