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Australia: International Student Roundtable submits proposals for improved visa & living conditions PDF Print E-mail

images/stories/TheAustralian_logo.gif Tuesday September 06, 2011

HIGHER EDUCATION

Visa requirements onerous: students

By John Ross

images/stories/ArfaNoor.jpg CISA president Arfa Noor: "The general feeling was, aren't we discussing the same issues?" (David Geraghty Source: The Australian)

VISA issues dominated discussions at last month’s international student roundtable, with overseas students submitting nine proposals to improve student visa flexibility and consistency.

A communiqué released late last week, almost a fortnight after the Canberra meeting, calls on the government to relax visa extension requirements and application costs.

While noting visa reforms already underway through the Knight and Baird reviews, the 30 participants also called for changes to English language testing arrangements.

They said they wanted to see IELTS test costs reduced and overall test results deemed acceptable in instances where benchmarks hadn’t been set for all four skill areas of reading, writing, talking and listening.

The communiqué also offers 18 recommendations addressing overseas students’ education experience, social inclusion, cost of living pressures, safety and welfare.

The Canberra meeting was organised two weeks ago as a follow-up to the inaugural roundtable organised by then Education Minister Julia Gillard in 2009, at the height of the crisis over attacks against Indian students.

But while the issues this time around echoed those discussed two years ago, a participant said students had been encouraged by pockets of progress around the country.

Council of International Students Australia president Arfa Noor said there had been a sense of déjà-vu at the start of the two day forum. “The general feeling was, aren’t we discussing the same issues?” she said.

“But once we started discussions we realised quite a bit has been done. It has been done on a smaller level, because that’s how things start.”

The students said the “Think Before” safety campaign and Melbourne’s International Student Care Service and International Student Legal Advice Clinic should serve as models for all state and territory governments.

“There is no national emergency service for students. If they’re in a crisis there are very few places for them to go,” Ms Noor said.

Curtin University’s volunteer program and the international student of the year awards in NSW, Queensland and WA were also highlighted.

The roundtable also recommended averaging of the 20 hour work limit for international students.

The corresponding 2009 recommendation, unimplemented so far, was for the limit to be raised to 25 hours unless the government could find a way of reducing accommodation, transport and other living costs.

Ms Noor said accommodation and transport had been highlighted repeatedly throughout the forum. “[But] we recognise it’s going to take a while to implement larger changes,” she said.