International student visa and immigration questions are difficult to answer at the moment, as the Department of Home Affairs in Australia has not updated advice regarding the impact of the virus in a range of specific situations. As these become available, be sure to check back here for updates. We recommend bookmarking this page and checking regularly.
Insider Guides spoke to Mark Glazbrook (Registered Migration Agent Number 0100185) of Migration Solutions for his advice and opinions on current immigration questions you might be having. Mark has been in the migration profession and assisting international students for over 20 years.
What will happen to my student visa if my studies are postponed?
The Department of Home Affairs (DoHA) has provided the following information on its website:
Can’t complete Australian Study Requirement or periods of stay under the regional initiatives for Temporary graduate visa holders:
We are looking at concessions on a case-by-case basis.
With the limited information available at this time, it appears from this statement that the Department will be looking at concessions on a case-by-case basis. My interpretation of this is that if a student complies with all visa conditions applied to their visa, but are affected by
circumstances beyond their control, such as a college or university postponing studies, this would not be grounds for a visa to be cancelled. It is likely that the postponement of studies will in many cases require students to apply for a new student visa if they are unable to complete their course before their current visa expires. On any such application, I would also expect that the Department apply concessions and discretion to students who may have been adversely impacted due to COVID-19.
When will I know about how this will affect my semester two enrolment?
Information from the Department and many education providers is limited at this time, which is understandable as we are truly in uncharted territory. There seems to be a big shift towards online study which should help many students with semester two.
If your provider moves to online study, it will be important to make sure you are aware of and continue to meet your attendance and academic performance requirements. I believe that with any immigration or visa compliance matter resulting from changes in circumstances directly related to COVID-19 there will be some discretion, flexibility and understanding on the Department’s behalf. However, if a student or any other visa holder breaches any visa conditions that is within their control, such as maintaining ongoing enrolment in an approved course, meeting attendance and academic performance requirements or employment stipulations such as working more than 40 hour per fortnight (unless in an approved activity) and the Department become aware of this, I believe the Department would take action. [This] could have a negative impact on any future studies in Australia, which could include visa cancellation for non-compliance with your visa conditions.
Will I need to re-apply for my visa? If so, how?
If your visa is going to expire, you must apply for a new visa before your current visa expires. This is the most important message to any visa holder in Australia. Yes, we are in very difficult and challenging times, even more so for temporary visa holders in Australia who currently are not entitled to any Federal Government assistance, but no matter what, do not let your visa expire.
Visa applications can still be made online. The Department has not announced any shut down or restrictions of its services. Applications can be made individually or you can seek assistance from a registered migration agent.
Some essential visa-related services such as medicals have been postponed until further notice. This means that even though you will be able to lodge an application, a decision will not be made by the Department if you are required to undergo medicals. In the case that a decision on an application is not made before your current visa expires, you will automatically go onto a bridging visa. Importantly, bridging visas will have the same conditions attached to them as your previous visa.
How long will my current visa be supported?
Your current visa will continue as normal. The only time a visa may be cancelled is if you do not comply with your visa conditions. As long as you do everything within your power to comply with your visa conditions, there should not be any grounds for cancellation.
If studies are postponed or cancelled for any reason, I strongly suggest that students get written confirmation of this from their provider which can be provided to the Department if requested at any time.
What if my provider is not offering my course online? Will I need to return home?
If your provider is not offering online study as an option, this should not result in visa cancellation as the Department will understand that this is a circumstance which is entirely beyond your control. Due to this, I do not believe the Department will take any action to cancel a visa, however, students may need to find another provider.
It is really too early to tell what the full impact of COVID-19 will be to the international student population and education providers. We will continue to provide regular updates about any immigration-related matter, change or announcement as information comes to hand. With regards to returning home, with travel bans and the suspension of many international flights restricting availability, you may not be able to return home, in which case please take care and stay safe.
My studies have just finished – what will happen to my visa now?
Fortunately there hasn’t been any changes for students who complete their course and visa options available. Student visa holders will need to continue to abide by their current student visa conditions and be aware of their visa expiry date – under no circumstances should you allow your visa to expire.
Do not overstay your visa. If your visa is expiring soon you can consider a number of options if you meet the Department’s relevant eligibility criteria. Visa options range from spouse/partner visas, a further student visa, a 485 visa, a further stay as a visitor or if you are fortunate enough, a skilled migration visa. You should seek independent advice about your eligibility and what you can and can’t do as an applicant for one of these visas. For example, a 485 visa will allow you to work full-time, [while] a visitor visa will not allow you to work at all.
Am I able to change and apply for a new course if my current course is no longer supported? If so, how?
There are some restrictions on changing courses and changing providers which you will need to be aware of. If your provider decides to suspend or stops providing a course or courses, I believe the Department will allow greater flexibility for students to change courses or change providers.
Once again, changing courses or providers due to circumstances beyond your control should not have a negative impact on your current visa or any visa that you apply for in the future. If you are required to apply for a new course because your current course is no longer supported by your provider, I suggest getting written evidence of this from your provider, just in case you get asked for any evidence from the Department at any time in the future. Applying for a student visa can be done online either individually or you can seek independent immigration advice and assistance from a registered migration agent.
I was planning to commence my studies mid-year – can I still do this?
If your provider is still proceeding with your course as per normal, then there is absolutely no reason why you cannot commence your studies mid-year. Remember, you still hold an Australian student visa and that visa has a number of visa conditions that you must comply with.
If you do not commence your course, or fail to meet academic performance or attendance requirements, your provider must notify the Department. If you fail to satisfy any visa condition due to circumstances that were within your control, it is highly likely that the Department will cancel your visa.
I would imagine that due to the impact of COVID-19 to the Australian and global economy, some students will not be able to pay course fees which will have an impact on commencing or continuing their studies. If you are facing financial hardship and difficulties due to COVID-19, I recommend that you discuss this with your provider and seek independent immigration advice about what you may need to do in order to keep your student visa and not face visa cancellation as a result of not having an active CoE.
Migration Solutions makes every effort to ensure that the information provided is accurate and comprehensive. However, the information contained herein is intended as a basic guide only and does not address individual situations or complexities of individual circumstances and as such you should seek independent advice about your individual circumstances.