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Tuesday, 10 May 1994
Page: 557

(Question No. 1248)

Senator Bell asked the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, upon notice, on 22 March 1994:

  (1) Following the Government's announcement in August 1989 of new arrangements for private students wishing to study in Australia, what `new' steps were taken to speed up processing of a backlog of visa applications from students of the People's Republic of China.

  (2) What was the extent of the backlog and what was its cause.

  (3) How many additional staff were sent to the Government's Beijing Embassy to assist processing.

  (4) How many student visa applications were processed, rejected and approved, during each month from August 1989 to August 1991, by the Beijing Embassy.

Senator Bolkus —I am advised that the answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) Questionestionnaires were mailed to all applicants in the People's Republic of China (PRC) backlog wishing to undertake ELICOS or other short non-formal courses to obtain additional information. From the returned questionnaires it was possible to assess the applications quickly.

  (2) There was an initial backlog of some 25,000 applications received before visa processing was suspended on 4 June 1989. An additional backlog of some 12,000 applications was made up of applications mainly received while processing was suspended.

  The causes of the backlog included:

  an upsurge of interest in study in Australia, which increased when Japan closed its language program to PRC students in November 1988; this resulted in some 10,000 applications, by Chinese who would otherwise have gone to Japan;

  the requirement that applicants must pre-pay Overseas Students Health Cover which came into effect in March 1989 resulting in processing delays as existing applications were held up while applicants organised payment;

  the build up of applications immediately prior to and after the Tiananmen Square incident on 4 June 1989, the consequent brief evacuation of the Embassy, and the suspension of visa processing from 4 June 1989 until the end of August 1989.

  (3) The Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs added one A-based officer on 9 October 1989. Over the period July 1989 to June 1990 funds were also allocated for an additional 14 locally engaged staff.

  (4) A table of visa applications processed by the Immigration Section at the Australian Embassy in Beijing follows. The figures represent only visa applications processed by the Immigration Section in the Embassy. Initial processing, including rejections, of the backlog of applications was done by the Education Section, which is why there are no rejections recorded from August 1989 to February 1990. Figures for refusals which appear from March 1990 do not relate to applications included in the pipelines, but to applications lodged after January 1990 under the new global entry criteria.

Table: Student visa applications processed, rejected and approved from August 1989 to August 1991 by the Australian Embassy in Beijing

1989 Applications processed Refused Visaed

August 48 48

September 107 107

October 479 479

November 10562 10562

December 3303 3303

1990 Applications received Refused Visaed

January 649 649

February 386 386

March 4874 233 4641

April 2400 585 1815

May 1265 974 291

June 1272 1082 190

July 1499 1374 125

August 776 595 181

September 359 137 222

October 608 480 128

November 368 255 113

December 296 83 213

1991 Applications received Refused Visaed

January 541 281 260

February 216 141 75

March 183 75 108

April 80 71 9

May 126 96 30

June 227 126 101

July 273 143 130

August 346 166 180

  Source: M839 Monthly Returns, Overseas Operations Branch, DIEA