Several international students with PhD offers from Australian universities have waited up to two years for visa determinations.
These students claim to be “in limbo” because Australia’s Department of Home Affairs, which controls immigration, refuses to provide a firm schedule for when they might expect to learn the decision of their applications.
Alokita, an Indian student, was offered a place at UNSW Canberra to study aerospace engineering in September 2020, with plans to commence her PhD in February 2021. Her visa has been “under assessment” since she submitted the application in early October 2020, and she claims that when she requests updates from the DHA, she only receives “generic” responses.
Alokita says the institution has been “extremely helpful” and has previously allowed her to defer her seat five times owing to the delay, but she will not be able to do so again if her visa is not accepted by June.
“Every day I wake up hoping to have a resolution, a direction, and a fixed plan of action,” Alokita said, adding that the last two years have been “packed with ridiculous amounts of stress.” Requests for feedback were not returned by UNSW Canberra.
Hamed, a 34-year-old Iranian, obtained an offer from the University of Newcastle for a PhD degree in electrical engineering and is currently awaiting a decision on his visa application, which he submitted in January 2020. Hamed stated that he had turned down multiple employment offers since he thought he would be moving to Australia.
“I can’t get back these two years,” he stated. “I can’t plan for the future, and it makes me scared every day.”
All of the applicants claim to have contacted the DHA repeatedly in some cases, their academic institutions and supervisors have also approached the DHA on their behalf – but communications from the government agency barely clarify when they can expect a resolution.
“Each time, they give a generic response indicating that my application is under active consideration and that the obligatory checks from external organisations could take two years or longer,” said Tanushree, an Indian student who has been waiting for a visa decision for over a year.
“I’ve been experiencing insomnia, anxiety attacks, and despair… “The visa delay is impacting my mental health,” she explained.
The students also claim to know others who have lately filed for and been awarded the same visas.
“We’re seeing students who applied just a few months ago get their visas, while students like me have been waiting for more than a year and a half,” Alokita explained.
According to the DHA’s website, 75 percent of postgraduate research visas are approved within 85 days, and “in March 2022, 90 percent of applications where the client is outside Australia were approved in 74 days.” It is unknown how many applications are now awaiting decision delays. As per the DHA website, “student visa applications from candidates outside Australia are being prioritised to allow fresh students to enter Australia and begin their study.” “As a result, this cohort’s processing times are shorter.”
Meanwhile, a DHA departmental spokeswoman told PIE News that “the time it takes to process a student visa is dependent on a range of criteria, including the applicant’s personal circumstances.”
“A visa will not be issued until the Department is satisfied that all requirements have been met.”
“All non-citizens applying for visas to enter Australia are assessed on an individual basis in accordance with Australia’s migration legislation.”
The official further said that the DHA issued roughly 84,000 student visas to applicants from outside the country between November 20, 2021 and April 29, 2022.
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