Changing courses and education providers

If you are thinking about changing your course of study, you need to ensure that you continue to meet all the conditions that apply to your student visa.

Changing courses - streamlined visa holders

If you were granted a visa under the streamlined visa processing arrangements and you would like to change to a new course of study, you generally need to enrol in another streamlined eligible course (or package of courses) at the same level as your current course in order to remain compliant with the conditions on your current student visa.

To check whether a course is eligible for streamlined visa processing, or to learn more about the streamlining arrangements for certain student visas, see streamlined student visa processing.

If you want to change the level of qualification you are studying towards, you need to apply for a new student visa because your visa subclass will not be appropriate for your new course (or package of courses). For example, if you want to change from a Bachelor degree to an Advanced Diploma.

If you transfer to a course of study that is not eligible for streamlined visa processing processing or if you change the level of qualification you are studying towards and you have not been granted a new visa appropriate to your new course then your visa might be considered for cancellation.

It is our policy that students who have transferred to a course not eligible for streamlined visa processing at the same level as their current course would not be considered for cancellation if either:

  • the country of their passport is Assessment Level 1 for their current visa or
  • they have held their current visa for at least 12 months.

Changing courses - non streamlined visa holders

If you want to change to a new course to study towards the same level of qualification and your visa was not granted under streamlined arrangements, you do not need to apply for a new student visa unless your current visa is about to expire.

If you want to change the level of qualification you are studying towards, you need to apply for a new student visa because your visa subclass will not be appropriate for your new course (or package of courses). For example, if you want to change from a Bachelor degree to a Certificate IV.

Changing your education provider - all student visa holders

In addition to ensuring that you comply with your visa conditions, there are also requirements under the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) National Code that apply if you want to change your education provider.

If you have not completed six months of your principal course (the main course of study you are undertaking) and you want to change your education provider, the ESOS National Code sets out the circumstances in which this will be possible. Unless special circumstances apply, you are usually required to have the permission of your existing education provider in order to transfer to another education provider.

If you do want to transfer, your education provider must assess or consider your request to transfer. All education providers must have documented procedures on their transfer policy. You should make sure you understand your education provider's transfer policy, and what your written agreement says you must do, before you attempt to enrol with a new education provider.

If your education provider does not give you permission to transfer to another education provider and you are not satisfied with the outcome, you should first access the internal appeal process with your education provider. If you are still not satisfied, you can appeal the education provider's decision at an external complaints handling body, such as the State or Territory Ombudsman or the Overseas Student Ombudsman.

Scenarios

The following are common scenarios about international students changing courses and complying with their visa conditions.

Moving from a university to a vocational education course

  • Unless certain exceptions apply to you, the ESOS National Code requires you to complete six months of your principal course (the highest qualification course) for which your visa was granted before changing from a University Course (for example a Bachelor degree) to a vocational education course (for example a diploma).
  • Australian migration law also requires you to obtain a new visa if you want to study in a different educational sector.

Names of people and education providers in this story are fictional for the purposes of this case study.

Mandeep was enrolled with the Eucalyptus University to study a Bachelor of Accounting. She was granted a Higher Education Sector (subclass 573) visa.

After commencing her bachelor degree, she was informed by a friend she could study her course faster and cheaper at a different institution. Mandeep thought this sounded like a good option as she wanted to get her degree as fast as possible. She thought she might have a problem with her visa if she changed her course.

Mandeep phoned the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to see if she could move to this cheaper institution. After confirming all the details of Mandeep's case, the immigration officer told Mandeep her visa was granted under streamlined visa processing arrangements with the Eucalyptus University - if she changed to a non-streamlined education provider while holding a streamlined student visa, she might be in breach of a condition of her visa (condition 8516).

The immigration officer informed Mandeep that if she wanted to change education provider she would have to choose one of the following options:

  • transfer to another streamlined institution (after completing six months of her principal course)
  • apply for a new student visa (after completing six months of her principal course) with a letter of offer or confirmation of enrolment from the new provider.

Mandeep decided to move to the cheaper institution, regardless of the information she had found out about her visa. Shortly after, an officer of the department contacted her and issued a Notice of Intention to Consider Cancellation for her student visa. Mandeep responded to the notice and provided reasons why her visa should not be cancelled. An officer of the department considered her response and proceeded to cancel her student visa for breach of condition 8516 as she had not acted on one of the two options put to her earlier.

Mandeep was upset and regretted not abiding by the conditions of her visa. Mandeep no longer held a visa to remain lawfully in Australia and made arrangements to return to her home country.

Changing courses in the first six months

  • If you have not completed six months of the highest qualification course in which your visa was granted, you need a release letter from your education provider (unless certain exceptions apply to you under the ESOS National Code).
  • If you are refused a release letter or your circumstances are not excepted under the ESOS National Code, you might want to access the internal appeal process with your education provider.

Names of people and education providers in this story are fictional for the purposes of this case study.

Trung had heard a lot about Australia. His cousin had studied in Australia and Trung believed if he trained in Australia this would result in good employment prospects. His dream was to set up a boutique hotel. Trung applied to the Australian University to undertake a Bachelor of Commerce and the education agent assisted him in applying for a visa to be able to study this course.

Trung arrived in Australia on a Higher Education Sector (subclass 573) student visa in late July. He was excited to commence his course but as the semester progressed he felt overwhelmed by how intense and technical the lectures were. He also struggled with the Australian accent. After eight weeks Trung began to lose interest in the course and stopped attending classes.

Trung went to the Blue Gum Institute and sought to enrol in a Certificate III in Hospitality which would mean he could still pursue his dream of opening a hotel. The student advisor explained to Trung that he required a release letter from the Australian University prior to being able to enrol with Blue Gum Institute. Trung applied for a release letter but was not granted one.

Trung called the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for advice. He was informed by an officer of the department that his current visa was granted to study in the higher education sector at the Australian University and as Trung wanted to study Hospitality at the vocational level he needed a Vocational Education and Training Sector (subclass 572) student visa which is the correct visa for students that study in vocational education and training courses.

Trung decided to apply for a subclass 572 student visa for the course at Blue Gum Institute. He was happy in his course once he was granted the subclass 572 visa and thinks he might apply for another student visa to go back to the bachelor course once he has completed the Certificate III course.

Note: If Trung had not have applied for another student visa, which was more appropriate to the course of his study, his subclass 573 student visa would have been liable for cancellation. This is because it is a requirement of the conditions of a student visa that the holder maintain enrolment in a course of study that is appropriate to the subclass of student visa.

Moving to a ELICOS course at the advice of your university

  • If you are having difficulties in your course talk to your student advisor.
  • If delaying the commencement of your course to complete an English course confirm your education provider has issued you a new confirmation of enrolment.

Names of people and education providers in this story are fictional for the purposes of this case study.

Bess enrolled in a Bachelor of Engineering at Banksia University. She had achieved high marks in her previous schooling in China and was looking forward to commencing her course at Banksia University. Bess had achieved the appropriate IELTS level and was confident she would be able to do well in her chosen course of study.

Bess commenced her first semester but struggled with some of the language used in her course. She also found it hard to keep up with the pace that some of her lecturers spoke. Bess was concerned if she failed her course, her visa might be cancelled and she would have to return to China.

She decided to talk to a student adviser about her situation. After Bess discussed the issue with her student adviser, it was suggested she take an ELICOS level English course for one semester with the expectation she would return to her bachelor degree once her English improved.

Bess was concerned this would affect her student visa. She called the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and asked if she could move to an ELICOS course if she was intending to return to her original study plan.

The immigration officer told her as long as she continued her planned study at the Higher Education Sector (subclass 573) visa level after completing the English course, she will continue to meet her visa conditions. Bess called Banksia University to confirm her enrolment after completing her English course.

Bess completed her English course and then recommenced her bachelor degree.

Note: If Bess had substantially failed her studies at Banksia University, this might have led to the cancellation of her visa. This is because the conditions attached to a student visa require, among other things, that the student visa holder progress towards the completion of their course of studies.

Changing courses after the first six months

  • If you have completed six months of the highest qualification course in which your visa was granted, you might choose to change courses or educational sectors.
  • If you choose to change education sectors you must apply for a new visa and continue to study your original course until your new visa is granted for your new course.

Names of people and education providers in this story are fictional for the purposes of this case study.

Kumar arrived in Australia on a Higher Education Sector (subclass 573) student visa.

He commenced his bachelor degree at Wattle University; studying a Bachelor of Communication to learn about the role of communication in modern society. Kumar had aspirations to open his own mobile phone store.

After two months studying Kumar decided he wanted to change to a Diploma of Marketing. He felt the diploma course was more suited to his career aspiration as it would provide him with sound theory and knowledge of marketing to enable him to progress his career prospects in sales and marketing management.

While continuing his studies at Wattle University, Kumar researched education providers and approached Bottlebrush Institute and enquired about enrolling in a Diploma of Marketing. The Bottlebrush Institute administration staff advised Kumar he would need to provide a release letter from Wattle University, before he could enrol in this diploma course. Kumar was confused and didn't understand why he needed a release letter. The administration staff explained that a release letter was required because he had not completed six months of the Bachelor of Communication for which his subclass 573 visa was granted.

Following receipt of this advice from the Bottlebrush College, Kumar checked the conditions of his student visa with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. The department confirmed Kumar's visa was granted to study in the higher education sector at Wattle University. If he wanted to study a Diploma of Marketing, he needed a Vocational Education and Training Sector (subclass 572) student visa, which is the correct visa for students who study a vocational education and training course.

Upon receiving this information Kumar continued studying his Bachelor of Communication at Wattle University. He decided after completing six months of this course he would transfer to the diploma.

He later applied for the diploma course with the other institution and obtained a confirmation of enrolment for the diploma. He then applied for a Vocational Education and Training Sector (subclass 572) student visa which was granted to him so that he could undertake the diploma course.

Stopping study to work for a while

  • Most student visa holders can only work 40 hours per fortnight while their course is in session.
  • You must continue to study as the holder of a student visa.

Names of people and education providers in this story are fictional for the purposes of this case study.

José arrived in Australia on a Vocational Education and Training Sector (subclass 572) student visa.

He was from Peru and came to study in Australia as he had heard it was a great country to receive an education.

José enrolled in a Diploma of Information Technology. He was not sure what career path he would eventually take and felt that information technology was a good starting place.

He commenced his Diploma at Boomerang College and made a lot of friends in Australia while studying. One of his friends told him about casual work available at the local Greek Taverna and José started to work there on weekends. He was aware of his visas work conditions and only worked 10 hours per day on the weekends to ensure he didn't work more than the maximum of 40 hours per fortnight allowed.

José enjoyed working at the Greek Taverna and wanted to increase his hours for a short while. He stopped attending classes and thought he would return to Boomerang College the following semester.

As his intention was to only work full-time for one semester, José did not think there would be a problem with not attending class.

A short while later, José received a notice from Boomerang College advising they were going to report him to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for unsatisfactory attendance. The notice said he could access the College's complaints and appeals. José was surprised to receive the notice and the following day attended Boomerang College to speak with the student advisor.

José explained he intended to work full-time this semester and return to his diploma the following semester. The student advisor told José he was breaching his visa conditions by working full-time and not attending classes. The advisor explained students are able to defer or temporarily suspend their studies; however this would only be approved on the grounds of compassionate and compelling circumstances. He was also told that suspending or cancelling his enrolment might affect his student visa.

José did not take the advice he received from the student advisor seriously and continued to work full-time.

Boomerang College cancelled José's confirmation of enrolment and José soon received a Notice of Intention to Consider Cancellation of his student visa from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. He did not respond to the notice and the department cancelled his student visa. 

As a result of the cancellation, José is barred from applying for various types of visas while in Australia and would likely be subject to a three-year exclusion period (re-entry ban) that would affect his ability to be granted a further temporary visa. José lost his job and no longer had a visa - he had to return to his home country.

Note: You must not engage in work before commencing your studies in Australia. Generally, most student visa holders are not permitted to work more than 40 hours per fortnight while their course is in session. Read more about working while studying in Australia.

Personal problems affecting studies

  • Seek treatment from a professional.
  • If you are having difficulties in your course talk to your student advisor.

Names of people and education providers in this story are fictional for the purposes of this case study.

Swati successfully completed a Certificate IV in Business at the Blue Gum Institute and applied for a second visa – a Higher Education Sector (subclass 573) student visa to study a Bachelor in Management at the Australia University. She hoped these skills would help her family's business in India.

One week before Swati was due to start her management degree, she received a call from her father informing Swati that her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. Swati was upset and worried about her mother and would ring India every few hours. She wanted to return home but her father insisted she continue her studies in Australia. Swati tried hard to continue with her studies but she could not concentrate because she was stressed and anxious about her mother's health.

Swati's course attendance started to decline, until she was too stressed and anxious to attend her studies at all. Swati received a warning letter from the Australia University advising that her course progress was not adequate and she risked being reported to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. This made Swati feel depressed.

Swati went to see the student advisor at the Australia University for advice. The advisor suggested she go and speak to a doctor. Swati went to her local doctor who referred her to a psychologist.

The psychologist diagnosed Swati with depression. Swati wanted to feel better before continuing her studies. She took her documentation from the doctor and psychologist to the student advisor. The advisor granted Swati a deferral on the grounds of compassionate circumstances.

One week after the deferral was granted, Swati returned home to India for the period of her deferral. She took her medical and deferral documents with her as well as her new confirmation of enrolment that showed she would recommence her course in six months.

Swati felt better at home and was able to support her mother. She returned to Australia five and half months later and resumed her course two weeks after arriving in Australia.

Note: You might be questioned about your deferral by the department. It is important that you have access to any medical and/or deferral documents, especially if you intend to travel outside of Australia. This will ensure that you are able to present evidence to the department in the instance that you are questioned about your deferral while you are outside of Australia

Guardian departs Australia and leaves student minor in Australia

  • Before departure, ensure that you make adequate welfare arrangements for the student minor.
  • Appropriately inform the school and the department of these welfare arrangements prior to departure.

Names of people and education providers in this story are fictional for the purposes of this case study.

Romita came to Australia on a guardian visa to look after her son Surjit while he studied his high school qualifications.

All was going well until Romita's husband Kirpal became ill and she needed to go home while her husband was in hospital for an operation. Romita thought she would need to be in India for six weeks while her husband recovered.

Romita did not know what to do - she did not want to take Surjit with her. He was studying in year 12 and she felt it was important for him to do well in his studies. Romita talked to Surjit's school to ask for their advice.

Surjit's school advised Romita she should make alternate welfare arrangements for Surjit before she leave Australia. The school offered to help find a homestay arrangement for Surjit. Romita said she had a 26 year old daughter who lived nearby in Australia. The school said they would be happy with a close relative looking after Surjit as long as the department approved the arrangement before Romita left Australia.

Romita called the department to seek advice. The immigration officer advised her if she could submit evidence of the need to travel, it would be appropriate for her to arrange for her daughter, provided she was more than 21 years of age, to look after Surjit in her absence. She was also advised that form 157N must be submitted together with information for her expected date of return. She was advised that the department should be informed of any change in circumstances.

Romita submitted this information to the department and her daughter was approved as the temporary guardian of Surjit. The immigration officer advised Romita she should take the confirmation of the changed welfare arrangements with her when she travelled in and out of Australia.

Romita returned home and cared for Kirpal. Once he was able to look after himself, Romita returned to Australia and stayed until Surjit finished his schooling, which was just before his 18th birthday.

Read more about education providers approving care arrangements for students less than 18 years old. Form 157N also explains what is and who can become a guardian.

To read common queries about changing courses, see the FAQ section of our website.

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Last modified Thursday 20 November 2014

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