Not anymore.

What we know is a student can apply for a visa online in Bhutan.

What’s the problem? Visa processing now takes about eight weeks on average.  This should not be translated into: “My visa will be processed within 2 months,” but rather, “It’s possible I could get my visa after two months.”

As I write this, according to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) website, they were still processing applications lodged on or before August 3. This meant that if you submitted your online visa on August 4 your application is still pending to be viewed.

Do the math and figure out if you’ll be able to get a visa before your orientation in October.

For students who are applying for a visa and have not yet completed their forms, most likely they will not get a visa on time for the October 2016 intake.

So what happens now? There are options and most students will have to defer till the next intake and that would be February/March 2017. There are some late arrival dates and if a visa is obtained before that final date and you can physically get to your institute before that deadline, you’re fine.

What happened? 

1. Bhutan was till July 1, 2016, an Assessment Level 2 country. This means that the DIBP checks student visa requirements based on the immigration risk posed by applicants from a particular country.

The higher the Assessment Level, the greater the evidence an applicant is required to submit.

Based on the documentation, since July 1, it is clear that Bhutan has been bumped into a higher risk country that, in my opinion, will see greater visa rejections, tighter documentation screening, greater financial evidence requirements, which means longer visa processing. No mutant abilities or crystal ball was required to see the future because it’s already here.

Why has this happened? There was a surge of questionable documents submitted with visa applications by Bhutanese students to the DIBP. Visa applications from Bhutan suddenly increased exponentially. During interviews students were unable to answer basic questions regarding course chosen for study which eventually lead to an enquiry on the authenticity of our students.

The illegal Bhutanese chicken farm workers in Perth two years ago did not help either.

It’s our own fault if Australian immigration authorities had to ask themselves “Are Bhutanese students genuine?”

We did it and we bumped ourselves into a higher risk rating.

The good news is that Bhutan can’t fall any lower then an Assessment Level 3. The bad news ofcourse is the fall out as already outlined above.

2. Another reason for Australian student visa delays is the backlog created by the new online visa system that went active on July 1.

It is a new system and there are teething issues, so delays are to be expected.

Recently there have been a series of emails sent by different Australian universities stating that representatives are working with the Department of Immigration to try and resolve the issues, and that priority is being given based on course commencement dates.

In addition to this, over the next few weeks universities have also said that students will begin receiving emails directly from their institutes that are affected by the visa delays and shall be given an update and advice on their options, if their visa is not granted in time to commence their programme.

The delay and backlog caused by the online system is not unique to Bhutan. It’s happening globally to all overseas students looking at Australia as a study destination.

The Australian, a major Australian newspaper, has quoted the UNSW International Vice President as saying 350 students who are due to start in the next few weeks have not yet been granted visas.

Several hundred students who have applied to study English in Australia before moving to degree programs haven’t received their visas, according to the executive director of English Australia, which represents English-language colleges.

Now to put into context the Bhutan scenario, after the delay issue of the new system gets worked out for all overseas students, our students still have to deal with the risk level status which means another holding period while our documents get screened with a finer eye.

What can we do? Nothing really. Once visas are submitted we must wait and that’s the hardest part. The idea of an online system means that Bhutan’s visa documents may not necessarily be screened from the High Commission in New Delhi, India as was the case before July 1. Our visas could be screened in any other country now. So requesting for status updates in New Delhi may no longer yield the same results.

While we really want to point a finger, we can’t. It’s not about paying a fee and demanding a result. The visa fee paid is for your documents to be looked at and determined if you, as a candidate is a genuine temporary entrant. If you meet the criteria a visa is granted. If you don’t, it’s rejected. The fee you pay is the cost of having your application vetted, nothing more.

At this stage all applicants waiting must understand the issues and take it upon themselves to spread the word that if they know anyone applying to study in Australia next year, they should be advised to submit their online visa three months in advance to course commencement as this will avoid what they are going through now.

Presently, there is a learning curve being experienced by the High Commission, DIBP, online visa system, students and service providers dealing with Australia.

Till such a time, this will be a very stressful period for all students waiting on their visas for the October and November commencement.

The only advice that I could possibly share right now is to be mentally prepared for a date deferment. It’s easier to prepare for it rather then have it creep up on you.

Contributed by

Palden Tshering