On 29 October 2013 the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection released the findings of the Review of the Student Visa Assessment Level report and announced the government’s proposal to simplify the student visa Assessment Level (AL) Framework.

From 22 March 2014 the department has simplified the AL Framework by removing AL4 and AL5. As a result the AL Framework now comprises three assessment levels (AL1 to AL3) with former AL4 countries/sectors reduced to AL3.

The department has also reduced the financial requirement for AL3 student visa applicants from 18 months to 12 months. However, as a result of this change, funds for AL3 applicants are required to be provided by the visa applicant or their close relative.

The AL Framework manages immigration risk in the student visa programme by aligning minimum evidentiary requirements for student visa applications to the immigration risk posed by applicants from a particular country applying for a particular student visa subclass.

When someone applies for a student visa, a legislative instrument specifies which AL applies based on the applicant’s passport country and their main course of study.

The Migration Regulations 1994 then prescribe what level of English language proficiency, financial requirements and previous study the applicant must provide based on their AL.

From 22 March 2014 assessment levels range from AL1 to AL3. AL1 represents the lowest immigration risk and AL3 represents the highest immigration risk. ALs determine the level of evidentiary requirements, related to factors such as financial capacity and English language ability, that an applicant must provide to be granted a student visa. The higher the AL, the greater are the evidentiary requirements that apply.

The review considered how the student visa risk management framework could be reformed to achieve enhanced integrity in the student visa programme while at the same time facilitating the competitiveness of Australia’s international sector. Consideration of how the student visa risk management framework could be informed by a provider-based risk approach was a key issue for the review.

The review also examined whether the student visa risk framework was appropriately responsive to differences within countries and between education providers, what eligibility thresholds should apply, and how the framework will be reviewed to ensure future immigration risks are identified and managed.

The review found that overall the AL Framework was working well, however it made eight recommendations to update the AL Framework so that it continues to facilitate the visa process for genuine international students while maintaining the integrity of the student visa programme.

Key recommendations include:

  • the extension of streamlined visa processing to low immigration risk providers (recommendation 1)
  • simplifying the AL Framework to three ALs with the removal of AL4 and AL5 (recommendation 3)
  • the reduction in financial requirements for AL3 applicants (recommendation 4)

The remaining recommendations largely relate to the process of assigning and reviewing ALs.

A copy of the review of the Assessment Level Framework report (764 kB pdf) can be found on the department’s website.

At the time of the Review no countries had been assigned as AL5. The removal of AL4 results in all students who were formerly subject to AL4 instead being assessed as AL3.

Former AL4 visa applicants benefit from this change as there is a reduction in the level of evidence of English language proficiency, financial capacity and previous study that they need to provide to the department for the grant of their visa.

For example, international students seeking a Schools sector (subclass 571) visa from countries that were previously AL4 are now able to enrol in Australian schools from Year 7 instead of from Year 10. This provides a substantial benefit for both students and schools.

Prior to 22 March 2014 an AL3 student visa applicant was required to provide evidence of funds from an acceptable source to pay for their expenses for the first 18 months of their stay in Australia.

The department has now reduced the evidence of finances required for AL3 students from 18 months to 12 months.

However, as a result of this change, funds for AL3 applicants now need to be provided by the student visa applicant or their close relative.

The department’s reduction to the financial requirement for AL3 student visa applicants brings the overall financial requirements for an Australian student visa in line with key competitor countries, enabling education providers to more effectively compete internationally based on the quality of their education.

This reduction to the financial requirement for AL3 student visa applicants is made possible by the existence of the genuine temporary entrant (GTE) requirement which provides an additional integrity safeguard that was not in place when the AL Framework was initially established.

The review did not recommend any changes to arrangements for AL1 and AL2 applicants.

The GTE requirement, which was introduced in November 2011, provides a safeguard to ensure that only genuine applicants are granted a student visa.

The GTE requirement considers whether the holistic individual circumstances of an applicant indicate that their intention is for a temporary stay in Australia. Assessment of the GTE requirement takes into account a number of factors relating to an applicant such as their immigration history, circumstances that may encourage the applicant to return to their home country and circumstances that might encourage them to remain in Australia.

The department’s changes to simplify the AL Framework only affect new student visa applications made after 22 March 2014.