Universities have been marketing aggressively outside of China since concerns were raised about China Communist Party domination of strategic and research activities. In the year ended July, Australia’s intake of students from India alone went up 30 per cent to 84,753.
The International Education Association of Australia said the Home Affairs decision was “far from welcome”.
“Unfortunately the Department of Home Affairs has rained on the parade, so the massive year on year growth from India may now be at risk,” said chief executive Phil Honeywood.
“It feeds evidence that Australia’s third-biggest industry has challenges ahead because of Australia’s relationship with China.
“There are problems brewing because geopolitical problems with our biggest market, China, are combined with visa decisions related to our second- and third-biggest student markets, India and Nepal.
“The more you tighten the screws on paperwork, the more likely a migration agent will recommend a student look to another country.”
The department weights countries on the record of past enrolments including fraud (40 per cent weighting), visa cancellations (25 per cent) and overstaying visas (15 per cent).
Universities can enrol students from high-risk countries but applicants have to meet higher standards, including proof they have money to finance their degree and passing an English proficiency test.
Not all bad news
Migration agent Ranbir Singh, director of Global Migration in Melbourne, said this would make it tougher for students who previously only needed a passport and a statement saying they were a genuine student.
“Approvals can take a lot longer. On things like financial proof the department can even send an investigation team.”
He said the new risk levels could deflect some students from Australia to Canada or the UK, which have lower thresholds.
It was not all bad news, Mr Singh said. Without tighter conditions Australia risked attracting students who were not up to standard.
“Some vice-chancellors have said they are not happy with the level of English of some students.
“But a student applying to a good uni, who has good English and good finance behind them, shouldn’t have a problem.”
Troy Williams, chief executive of the Independent Tertiary Education Council of Australia, said the Home Affairs department was trying to weed out people who really wanted immigration from students who wanted education.
“Changes like this are not taken lightly because of the risk to major export markets, but they are ultimately made to protect the reputation of Australia,” said Mr Williams.