In order to study in Australia, you will need to obtain an Australian student visa. You must be able to prove to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship(DIAC) that you meet the following key Australian student visa requirements: Genuine Student Requirement, Genuine Temporary Entrant (GTE) requirement, financial requirements, English proficiency requirements, and health and character requirements. You’ll need to complete an Australian student visa application form, pay the visa application fee, and perhaps attend an interview. Read on for more detail on what all of this involves.
What is a ‘genuine student’?
First, what’s meant by the term ‘genuine student’? To meet the criteria to be classed as a genuine student, you must show that you intend to obtain a valid educational outcome and that you are equipped with the language, educational and material background to reasonably be able to do this. When assessing whether the applicant for an Australian student visa is a genuine student, factors considered include:
- English language proficiency
- Sufficient finances
- Prerequisite schooling (such as secondary and post-secondary education)
- Age requirements
- Intention to comply with visa conditions
What is a Genuine Temporary Entrant (GTE)?
Introduced in November 2011, the Genuine Temporary Entrant (GTE) requirement states that the visa applicant must be able to demonstrate a genuine intention to stay in Australia temporarily for the purpose of study (or to accompany a student as a dependent (i.e. spouse or child), or as a guardian). The decision-makers at DIAC will consider the following factors:
- The circumstances in your home country
- The potential circumstances for you in Australia
- The value of your chosen course to your future
- Your immigration history
- Any other relevant matters
In order to determine whether you are both a genuine student and a GTE, you may be asked to attend an interview at your nearest Australian embassy or consulate. Some applicants will only need to fill in a visa application form.
Completing an Australian student visa application form
You’ll first need to make sure you’re applying for the most relevant visa, using the correct Australian student visa application form. The DIAC website has a Visa Finder feature to help you find the most relevant type of visa for your circumstances. Most international students looking to study an undergraduate (bachelor’s) or postgraduate (master’s) degree will qualify for the Higher Education Sector visa (subclass 573). Most students will be eligible to apply online, but if you find you cannot, you must make a paper application to the Australian embassy or consulate in your country. You can only apply online for a student visa a maximum of 124 days before your course starts.
Before applying for a visa, you will need to obtain a Confirmation of Enrolment (COE) or a Letter of Offer confirming that you have been accepted into a course registered under the Commonwealth Register of Institutions of Courses(CRICOS). The COE will be in the form of an online code that you will need to enter into the appropriate section in the online visa application. You may also need to pay a deposit towards your tuition fees.
You will be able to change course afterwards, if you wished, but it must be to one of the same level, otherwise you will need to apply for a new visa entirely. Students may also package their studies to combine another course with their main course of study, in which case the visa application subclass will correspond to their main course of study (i.e. if your main course of study is an undergraduate degree, your visa subclass will be 573).
All students will need to identify their Assessment Level (AL) before they can proceed with their visa application. The AL is based on the course you intend to take and your country of origin, with AL 1 students regarded as the lowest immigration risk and AL 5 students the highest. The visa process will be slightly different depending on your assessment level, with students with ALs other than 1 having a more complicated visa application process.
The visa process is also different if you qualify for ‘streamlined visa processing’. This is available for international students wishing to study in Australia at a participating university, if their main course is a bachelor’s degree or a master’s by coursework. If you are eligible for streamlined student visa processing you are not assigned an Assessment Level, as students eligible for this service are automatically determined to be low immigration risk. Eligible students will also have reduced evidentiary requirements for their student visa application. Students who intend to package their courses may still be eligible for streamlined visa processing if they meet certain requirements.
Australian student visa requirements
When filling in your online visa application form, you will need to provide evidence of the following Australian student visa requirements:
Financial requirements: Evidence of sufficient funds to cover tuition, travel and living costs. The Assessment Level of the student determines the level of funds required, who can provide these funds and how long the funds must be held. If you have dependents (such as a spouse and children), you will also need to show evidence of being able to cover living costs for them, regardless of whether they intend to travel to Australia or not.
English proficiency requirement: While all students are required to demonstrate they have the appropriate English language proficiency for their course, AL 1 and 2 applicants need only meet the requirements specified by their higher education provider, while AL 3 and 4 applicants must also provide DIAC with evidence of their English language proficiency. The DIAC website lists eligible tests, with possibilities being the IELTS, TOFEL iBT, Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic and Cambridge Advanced English (CAE) test. The score you will need will depend on whether you are starting a full degree, doing a foundation course, or enrolling on a preliminary English Language Intensive Course for Overseas Students (ELICOS).
Health requirements: Some students may be advised to take a medical and/or a radiological check-up to show they are in good health (this applies, for example, to those who intend to train as a doctor, dentist or nurse). If told to do so, you must attend an appointment with a doctor who has been approved by the Australian immigration department. Except those from Belgium or Norway, all students are obliged to purchase Overseas Student Health Cover(OSHC). You may purchase this cover through your university, or directly from one of the five approved providers: Australian Health Management, BUPA Australia, Medibank Private, Allianz Global Assistance and nib OSHC. The average cost of OSHC is AUS$437 (US$383) for 12 months for a single student. Students from Sweden who have purchased health insurance through CSN International or Kammarkollegiet will not need to purchase OSHC.
Character requirements: All students will also be assessed against the character requirements stipulated by DIAC. This includes a criminal record check, to make sure you don’t have a substantial criminal record. You may also need to acquire a penal clearance certificate (or police certificate) or get a police statement, and may be asked to complete a Character Statutory Declaration Form.
Australian student visa documents
The DIAC website has a document checklist feature that will provide you with a list of documents required for your specific type of student visa. You simply need to select the type of visa you are requesting, and either indicate that you are eligible to apply for streamlined visa processing or select your appropriate Assessment Level. Then select ‘View Checklist’ to open a PDF document with all the necessary documents you need to provide. Typically, students must submit the following:
- Completed Australia student visa application form (157A)
- Paid visa application fee
- Copy of passport biodata page (some students may be asked to physically provide their passport)
- Certificate of Enrolment or Letter of Offer
- Evidence of sufficient funds
- Evidence of health insurance cover
- English proficiency test results
- Criminal record check results
Visa processing times will vary depending on your Assessment Level and the type of visa you are applying for. Allow up to four weeks, with online applications usually being considerably quicker. Your student visa will last for the duration of your studies, including holiday periods, and will also allow you some time to remain in Australia at the end of your course, in order to prepare for departure. Under some circumstances, it may be possible to apply for a further visa at the end of your course (consult the DIAC website for more details).
Arrival in Australia
You can arrive in Australia on your student visa up to 90 days before your course starts. Within seven days of arrival, you must inform your education provider of your resident address. While on a student visa, you may work up to 40 hours per fortnight during term time, and full time in the holidays. The visa is automatically issued with ‘permission to work’, although you are not allowed to begin working until your course has started. Keep in mind that any work required as part of your course is not included in the limit. If you intend to do unpaid or voluntary work, you must still apply for permission to work, and can still only work up to 40 hours per fortnight as mentioned above.
While in possession of a student visa, you have certain obligations to fulfil: you must remain enrolled in a CRICOS-registered course, attend classes regularly, make satisfactory course progress and maintain OSHC health insurance. There are also certain visa conditions you and your dependents must comply with; breaching a visa condition may result in the cancellation of your visa.