It’s summer, and for students going abroad, it’s the season to pack bags and apply for visas. For Chinese students going abroad, it has been an active summer with many changes to visa policies.
Visa policies often reflect the broader political climate. Several countries have recently tightened visas for Chinese students. Australia, whose leaders have raised concerns about rising Chinese influence on university campuses, has been accused of delaying Chinese student visa applications.
Similarly, US-China relations have been turbulent over the past few months. The two countries have been locked in a trade dispute, with Trump recently declaring his readiness to tax all Chinese imports. Further, the US placed new restrictions on visas for Chinese students over concerns of intellectual property theft.
At the same time, other countries have taken the opportunity to streamline visa procedures and attract more international enrollments. Here is a quick overview of visa-related developments that have taken place over the past few months:
Australia: Accusations of Delayed Applications
Every year, 125,000 Chinese students enroll in Australian universities accounting for 62 percent of foreign students at Australia’s largest universities. According to Australia’s Group of Eight association, every three international students enrolled at an associated university contributes $1 million every year.
However, in recent months, relations between Australia and China have been tense, with Canberra accusing the Chinese government of political interference and eroding academic freedom.
In March, Chinese students with offers from Australian universities accused the Australian consulate of delaying their visa applications. According to the Global Times, over one hundred students waited upwards of eight months to receive updates about their applications.
Canada: Faster Processing Plus a Pathway Towards Permanent Residency
In June, the Canadian government launched a streamlined process for student visas. The Student Direct Stream is available to students from China, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines who meet certain criteria allowing them to seek faster visa processing
To qualify, students must have an IELTS score of six or higher and already be accepted to study at a Canadian institution. They must also pass a medical exam, pay their first year’s tuition, and place a $10,000 deposit in a Canadian bank account.
Also, the Student Direct Stream places students on a path to apply for work permission and permanent residency after graduation.
UK: Lower Documentation Requirements
On July 6, new rules came into effect that dramatically reduced the documentary requirements for Chinese students applying for UK Tier 4 visas.
The Tier 4 is a general visa for students who have already been offered a place on a course. Under the new rules, Chinese students are deemed “low risk” and no longer need to demonstrate English fluency, financial resources, or proof of qualifications when applying for the visa. While students may need to provide additional documentation at the request of consular officers, the move signals a faster process for most applicants
USA: Visa Restrictions & Concerns over IP Theft
In addition to the trade war, tensions between the US and China have intensified over allegations of intellectual property theft and espionage. The Trump Administration has stated that Chinese students in the US have stolen sensitive research and technology that is later deployed by Chinese organizations. In a recent dinner with White House staff and business executives, Trump even went so far as characterizing the majoring of Chinese students as “spies” on American university campuses.
In an effort to curb intellectual property theft, beginning June 11, the US implemented visa restrictions for Chinese students in sensitive high-tech fields. Visas for researchers in these fields will now require clearance from multiple US government agencies, meaning a single visa could take months of approval. Further, visas will be issued with a maximum validity of one year, requiring renewal for multi-year programs or positions.
New Zealand – Increased Post-Graduation Work Opportunities Following Slump in Language Students
In June, the New Zealand government reported that student visas for students coming from China were down 20 percent from the previous year. Analyst said the cause of the slump may be due to changes in permanent residency opportunities following graduation.
In contrast, this month, New Zealand announced more favorable work-visa regulations that would allow foreign students to gain professional experience in the country for up to three years after graduating from a bachelor program. Under previous rules, students could apply for a one- or two-year work visa after graduation.
Minister of Immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway, said the changes will increase the competitiveness of New Zealand as a study destination, ““We remain second only to Canada in terms of the work rights that people receive and in fact at degree level we have just gone past Australia and now provide a more generous option than that country.”
In the short-term, we predict relatively little change in Chinese students' decisions. In our conversations with students, visas are seen as an unavoidable hurdle that must be endured regardless of destination.
However, in the long-run, students preparing to go abroad will undoubtedly gravitate towards countries offering work opportunities and foreign-friendly environments.
Already, growth has slowed in certain American programs. The Pew Research Center show that interest in the OPT program has slowed. The OPT program allows students in stem fields – which are largely affected by the new visa restrictions – to remain in the US for work experience. After a decade of growth (400%), the program saw just 0.5% growth in Chinese participants last year.
Australia, which offered favorable immigration policies for decades, is set to overtake the UK as the second most popular destination for foreign students. However, this trend may reverse if Australia increases restrictions as the UK lowers restrictions.
Time will tell whether the changing visa rules will affect Chinese students’ preferences while studying abroad - we'll be sure to keep you updated.