Melbourne: Witnessing a steep decline in foreigners` enrolment in its universities, Australia on Thursday announced that it will relax some visa requirements to win back overseas students, including Indians.
The new changes, expected to be enforced from the second semester of 2012 in the Australian universities, follow a review of the student visa programme led by ex-New South Wales government minister Michael Knight.
Under the new rules, the financial requirements for student visas will be eased and applicants will be needing about 36,000 dollars less in their bank account than they do now. And new post-study work visas will allow students to
remain in Australia for two to four years after their course ends, depending on their level of qualification.
Significantly, Canberra had earlier tightened visa regime for Indian students, stating that a number of them come to Australia to settle down by taking admissions in non-skilled vocational courses like cookery and hair-cutting, implying that this was one of the reasons for a series of attacks on Indian youths here.
"We were taking hairdressers from overseas in front of doctors and nurses, it didn`t make any sense," Australian immigration authorities had said last year while tightening the visa rules.
More than 100 incidents of attacks against Indian students have been reported over the past two years in Australia, mainly in its Victoria province.
In New Delhi, Australian High Commissioner Peter Varghese welcomed the announcement of changes to Australia`s student visas requirements.
Calling the changes significant, he said they would enhance the competitiveness of Australia`s international education sector and result in easier and faster visas for Indian students in a range of Australian university courses.
Indian student enrolment in Australia has declined by almost half following turmoil in its international education sector, legislative changes and global financial crisis.
In 2008-09, 65,503 Indian passport holders were granted Australian student visas across all education sectors. But in 2009-10, the number fell to just 29,721. Overall, 50,540 fewer international students were granted visas to study in Australia in 2009-10 compared with 2008-09.
The Australian authorities also said that students applying for various course will also have to prove they are genuine students and genuine about returning home.
"It`s not enough to be genuine about your studies and have no intention of going home, nor is it enough to be genuine about going home but not serious about your studies," Knight was quoted as saying in the report.
The Knight report made 41 recommendations, which have been accepted by the government.
Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans said the changes would help Australian universities to be more competitive in the international market. "They have articulated for a long time that the visa processes are a barrier to attracting students in an increasingly competitive environment," he said.
Evans said the sector`s previous growth rate was unsustainable and could not continue.
"I think we had some of those problems with student welfare because the system had just grown too quickly," he said. "This will help put this sector on a very good footing to continue to grow."