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International students left feeling like ‘cash cows’ after Albanese government raises visa fees

Surprise increase makes Australian visa application fee among most expensive in the world, as new survey finds rising costs putting prospective students off

Students at the University of Sydney. The education minister, Jason Clare, said the price rise reflected the increased value of education in Australia and would be directed towards higher education initiatives. Photograph: Loren Elliott/Reuters

International students say the Australian government is making them feel like “cash cows” and sending a clear message they are unwelcome after home affairs more than doubled the price of visa applications overnight.

The non-refundable visa fee rose from $710 to $1,600 without prior warning on Monday, making it one of the most expensive in the world and well in excess of competitors New Zealand (A$343), Canada (A$164), the UK (A$932) and the US (A$277).

The rise follows a series of migration reforms including a prospective cap on foreign enrolments that research suggests may dissuade prospective students from choosing Australia as a study destination.

Education officer at the Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association, Weihong Liang, says students were “shocked” by the dramatic increase in visa fees – and the short notice that was provided.

“Students plan their studies several months in advance,” Liang, who is also a Chinese international student, said. “These sudden changes have forced those who decided to come here around July to swallow a bitter pill.

“They have to bear the additional costs, or else all their preparations will be in vain.”

The minister for education, Jason Clare, said the rise reflected the increased value of education in Australia and would be directed towards higher education initiatives.

“These changes will strengthen integrity in the international education system and help to fund important reforms recommended by the Universities Accord,” he said.

But Liang said the fee change, coupled with other recent reforms, including adjustments to visa requirements and the international student cap, had sent the international community a “clear message” from the Australian government.

“They are extremely unwelcoming to international students,” he said.

“It is an unfair practice, exploiting the students who plan to study in Australia. This message will soon to be shared to a wider, global community, issuing warnings and advisories to more students from experiencing such harsh treatment.”

 

Weihong Liang, education officer at the Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association, says the federal government is sending a clear message to international students that they’re not welcome. Photograph: Supplied

A survey commissioned by IDP Education and provided to Guardian Australia found 62.5% of prospective students would be put off from studying in Australia if there was a significant increase to visa fees.

The survey, which received more than 1,400 responses last month, found 22% would choose another study destination if Australia’s visa became the most expensive in the world, while 40.6% would reconsider their options.

Director of partnerships and stakeholder engagement at IDP Connect, Joanna Storti, said there was “no question” there will be a decline in students applying to study in Australia.

“Quality students can also be very price conscious students, and a 125% increase overnight is a big leap of faith for visa applicants when grant rates are unpredictable right now,” she said.

“Markets are becoming increasingly price sensitive and Australia is now the most expensive by far. This will potentially provide pause.”

Storti noted the change comes amid a decline in Australia’s global rankings, dropping from equal first preferred study destination with Canada in IDP’s research last October to second place this year.

“International students are very tuned in to political debate and are attracted to destinations they feel welcome and valued,” she says.

“We’re quite concerned this visa increase sends a negative message about Australia, and students vote with their feet.”

Recent masters graduate, Julia Khadka, who comes from Nepal, said the previous fee of $710 was already a “significant financial burden” on Nepalese students.

“Australia, once a favoured destination, might now be out of reach for many, prompting them to seek more affordable alternatives,” she said.

Khadka says the news has been “particularly discouraging” as it comes during a high visa rejection rate.

The number of student visas granted to Nepalese applicants more than halved in the year to the end of May compared with the same period in the previous year, from 32,758 to just 12,962.

“I feel deeply for those aspiring to study abroad,” Khadka said. “Everything is getting more expensive, and this added financial burden makes it even harder for students to achieve their dreams.”

Jaspreet Gill, a UTS student from Ludhiana, India, recently completed a bachelors degree in biotechnology in Australia and is now pursuing a masters in teaching.

He said he felt grateful to be financially supported by his parents, who take care of his expenses, but was worried for his family and friends who don’t have a similar backing.

“Not every student has my support,” he said. “Some of my friends have taken education loans, I’ve spoken with them and they say it’s an extra financial pressure now to consider Australia.

“It’s going to deter some students. It’s just so high now.”

Devis, a masters student from Nepal who asked not to use his last name, said the visa increase will have a “profound impact” on the financial stability of students applying to study in Australia for the first time or looking to extend.

“This change suggests that the Australian government views international students as cash cows,” he said.

“International students face significant discrimination compared to other visa holders.”

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