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New rules for Australian Student Visa: From GTE to GST, can you get a visa more easily?

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

The Australian Student visa regime is on the brink of potentially significant reforms under the Albanese government, with the imminent shift from the "Genuine Temporary Entrant" (GTE) criterion to a more robust "Genuine Student Test." This headline has sparked lively discussion among the general public and KOLs, regardless of whether they are migration professionals, all speculating on the potential easing of student visa application requirements. However, our team at MEA Group and Integro Lawyers holds a distinct perspective.


While there is no doubt that the Albanese government, like its predecessors, seeks to attract more individuals to Australia, especially in the post-COVID era, utilizing both temporary and permanent migration as tools to stimulate the Australian economy, it's crucial to revisit the words of the Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Clare O’Neil MP, as she addressed the National Press Club in April 2023 on Australia's Migration System:

“More than half the people who receive permanent skilled visas under our current system arrived in Australia on a student visa… Instead of pretending that some students are here to study when they are actually here to work, we need to look to create proper, capped, safe, tripartite pathways… We want to ensure that high-performing students, with the skills we need, are given the chance to stay. We propose creating simpler, faster pathways for international students who will have the special skills and capabilities we need… But we also need to make sure our international student system has integrity… We will look at tightening the requirements for international students studying in Australia, and ensure that students are actually here to study.”


In the Q&A session, the Minister further said:

“We have got to make sure this is a system with integrity; otherwise, we degrade the experience of students here and actually our reputation around the region and internationally. So it’s really important we get this right…[t]he first issue is that we are assessing international students based on whether we think that they will be able to essentially survive in Australia’s education system.”


The Albanese government is gearing up for a substantial overhaul of Australia's current student visa program, signalling their belief that the existing system isn't quite hitting the mark. In the words of the Minister, they're about to "tighten the requirements for international students studying in Australia." This move promises to inject new life and vigour into the landscape of international education down under.



Brief History of the Australian Student Visa


The student visa system in Australia has undergone several changes and reforms over the years. Here is a brief overview of the history of the Australian student visa:

  • Pre-1990s: Before the 1990s, Australia did not have a dedicated student visa program. International students typically entered Australia on visitor visas and then applied for course enrollment.

  • Introduction of Subclass 570-576 Visas (1994): In 1994, Australia introduced the Subclass 570-576 student visas, which replaced the previous system. These visas were categorised based on the level of education and type of institution.

  • Streamlining (2011): In 2011, the Australian government introduced a major overhaul of the student visa system, simplifying it into a single subclass, Subclass 500, which covers all education sectors and levels.

  • Simplified Student Visa Framework (SSVF) (2016): Introduced in 2016, the SSVF streamlined the student visa application process. It categorized countries into assessment levels based on immigration risk, simplified financial documentation requirements, and introduced the Genuine Temporary Entrant (GTE) requirement to assess the genuineness of a student's intention to study in Australia.


The GTE Requirement


Deputy President Jan Redfern PSM, the Head of the Migration & Refugee Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, said at the Nation Migration Conference 2022 in Tasmania that the GTE legislation is unnecessarily complex.


  • In September 1994, the student visa legislation stated “the Minister is satisfied that the applicant is a genuine applicant for entry and stay as a student…”

  • In July 2004, the legislation stated “the Minister has no reason to believe that the applicant is not a genuine student…”

  • In July 2012, the legislation stated “The Minister is satisfied that the applicant is a genuine applicant for entry and stay as a student because… the applicant intends genuinely to stay in Australia temporarily…”

  • The current wording regarding the GTE is “[t]he applicant is a genuine applicant for entry and stays as a student…in Australia temporarily…”


Despite the difference in wording, the legislation directed a case officer to consider any relevant matter when assessing an applicant’s genuineness as a student.


The evolution of wording in Australian student visa legislation concerning the GTE criterion reflects changes in policy focus.


The 1994 and 2004 amendments focused on the Minister's absence of doubt regarding the applicant's genuineness as a student. In July 2012, it emphasised the Minister's satisfaction with regard to the applicant's genuine intent for a temporary stay.

The current wording places the responsibility on the applicant to be a genuine student in Australia on a temporary basis.


Despite the variations between amendments, all versions have guided case officers to consider relevant factors when assessing an applicant's genuineness as a student.


The Crash – Temporary as a Student vs. Intention to be Permanent


The Minister's statement revealing that "over half of permanent skilled visa recipients initially arrived on student visas" has ignited discussions about creating a student-to-permanent-resident pathway in Australia. This proposition has sparked a debate among some who see a potential contradiction between the GTE test for student visas and the government's broader permanent residency policy. It highlights the existing challenge of balancing the temporary study intentions of an applicant with the possibility of their long-term future stay in Australia.


Let us briefly go through the internal policy that case officers have in mind when making student visa application decisions.


In 1994, the policy stated “[i]n assessing the intention (or otherwise) of a student to leave Australia at the end of any authorised period of temporary stay (and keeping in mind that this is one factor only in assessing genuineness)…The fact that the student has applied for a permanent visa (whether in or outside Australia) does not in itself mean that the same person applying for visa 560 does not intend to leave Australia at the end of any authorised period of temporary stay”.


In 2004, the policy stated “[i]ntention to apply for skilled migration is not a reason to doubt the genuineness of a student visa applicant if the proposed course is consistent with the skilled migration program requirements.”


In 2012, the policy stated “[t]he mere fact that the student has applied for a permanent visa (whether in or outside Australia) does not in itself mean that the same person applying for a student visa does not intend to leave Australia at the end of any authorised period of temporary stay.”


Currently, the policy consideration regarding an applicant’s intention to stay in Australia permanently while making a student visa application is: “A settled intention to remain in Australia permanently at the time of application is not consistent with the GTE requirement. However, it does not automatically mean that the applicant does not meet this criterion.”


These policies make it abundantly clear that merely expressing an interest in applying for a permanent visa does not preclude an applicant from meeting the GTE criteria of a student visa application.


In simpler terms, the student visa policy aligns harmoniously with the idea that a prospective student may have ambitions of obtaining permanent residence in Australia. It underscores the principle that studying in Australia can be a stepping stone towards a more lasting connection with the country, rather than a contradictory hurdle.


So, What Changes Lie Ahead?

While we cannot predict the exact nature of upcoming amendments to legislation, as the details of such amendments remain undisclosed, one thing is certain - the name "Genuine Temporary Entrant" will be retired.


Now, returning to the initial question posed at the beginning of this article - will obtaining an Australian student visa become easier?


Given the historical context of legislation and policy, we do not foresee a significant shift in the fundamental requirement of demonstrating genuineness as a student visa holder. At the very least, it's likely that the mindset of the case officers at student visa processing centers will remain largely unchanged.


Contact us

Should you have any inquiries related to Australian studies, visas, or migration law, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at either MEA Group or Integro Lawyers. We're here to provide expert guidance and support on your journey through the Australian education and immigration landscape. Your questions and concerns are our priority, and we're ready to assist you every step of the way.

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