Australian visas become a lot easier
Foreigners applying to enrol in Australian universities from next year will find obtaining a visa much easier following a government decision to streamline processing.
The Australian government plans to introduce the faster visa processing system - shortened from the current three months to about a month - in the first half of 2012 for students of bachelor's and certain higher degree courses.
Also, those who take up a non-university course, such as an English language programme, along with an eligible university course, will also benefit from the new arrangements. Options include semester or year-long non-award university courses, such as an agreed student exchange programme. Non-award courses refer to those not leading to an Australian qualification, such as foundation courses that prepare international students for undergraduate study.
The changes come as a result of a review of the regulations affecting overseas applicants.
Students, regardless of their country of origin, will be treated as though they are at lower risk of working illegally while in Australia or staying on at the end of their visa with the intention of becoming a migrant.
A greater attraction will be the scrapping of rules that require candidates to prove they have access to at least A$18,000 (HK$144,900) a year to fund their living costs in Australia.
From next year, this requirement is likely to be abolished - provided a university has received government approval to take part in the new streamlined visa process.
Foreigners can now work for 18 months after graduating, but from 2013 they will be able to apply for a two-year post-study work visa if they have completed a bachelor's or master's degree by coursework, with no restrictions on the jobs they do. A holder of a master's degree by research or a PhD may receive a three- or four-year visa respectively.
The review that produced these changes was conducted by Michael Knight, the state minister in charge of the Sydney Olympics in 2000. It was the first examination of the student visa programme and was intended to enhance its integrity and international competitiveness. In June, Knight produced a 150-page report containing 41 recommendations, and the government accepted them all.
This year, about 20,000 Hongkongers are enrolled in Australian universities. More than 1,200 of them are postgraduates, and of those almost all are in graduate diploma or master's by coursework studies. One in 10 of the postgraduates is tackling a PhD programme.
Students aiming to read for a master's degree by coursework have to obtain a higher education sector student visa, while those enrolling in a master's by thesis or a doctoral degree should apply for a postgraduate sector visa. Visa applicants must already be accepted for full-time study on a registered course.
Foreigners can expect to pay A$15,000 to A$36,000 a year for a graduate certificate or diploma and up to A$40,000 for a master's degree by coursework, to be completed over three semesters, or 18 months. Fees for PhD studies vary markedly from course to course and from university to university.
Scholarships are offered by the Australian government, educational institutions and other organisations. But most students work part-time to meet the costs.
From next year, overseas students and members of their dependent family will be allowed to work for 40 hours per fortnight in term time, while postgraduate students undertaking a degree by research will have unlimited work rights.
The average Hongkonger spends A$1,500 to A$2,000 a month on living expenses, including rent, telephone bills, utilities, the internet, transport and food. But if they live downtown rather than in the suburbs, then costs rise.
Homestay accommodation, where the student lives with an Australian family, costs A$110 to A$270 a week, hostels up to A$180 and rental flats up to A$400.