Kids’ visa change set to boost school-zone market

A new visa system that opens the door to ­primary-school students and their guardians to come to Australia is set to boost housing demand by Chinese buyers.

Data from REA Group shows visits from China-based property seekers declined sharply early this year, but that is likely to pick up when the simplified student visa framework takes effect on July 1.

“Anything Australia does to ­increase the number of Chinese students will also increase investment in strategic areas of the real estate market,” said Gavin Norris, the Australian head of Juwai.com, the leading Chinese international property portal.

From next month, students from age six may apply for a student visa, subclass 500, regardless of their country of citizenship. Currently, the system assesses ­applications based on calculated immigration risk. Most Chinese students now are ranked at level 3, the highest risk requiring the most evidence to support applications.

An Immigration Department spokesman said the change was designed to make applications simpler for genuine students, “deliver a more targeted approach to immigration integrity” and reduce red tape.

The president of Melbourne-based international education recruitment agency OzStudy Group, Victor Huang, said the change was a big improvement.
“Under the old framework, primary-school-aged students from China can’t study here in Australia, but now it is made very clear that they can come as well,” he said.

The Immigration Department said the changes were not meant to increase numbers at primary school, but enable international students to do limited study in Australia — “for example Years 5 and 6” — before attending high school here.

A recent survey by OzStudy Group of mostly Chinese parents, showed 24 per cent were willing to send primary school-aged children to study in Australia if possible.

Shirley Shi, a Chinese mother who immigrated to Australia about three years ago, is keen to share the policy changes with friends in Beijing.

“Some of them are already asking about how to apply for the guardian visa so that they can accompany their kids to study here,” said Ms Shi, who has two children in school in Sydney’s northwest.

China is the highest source of international students in Australia, contributing 27.3 per cent or 136,097 people on student visas in 2015.

The changes were welcomed by the property industry. “Guardian visas have the potential to lead to the greatest relative impact on the property market, because family members are much more likely to accompany primary-age and secondary-age children to Australia than they are their 18 to 21-year-olds,” Mr Norris said.

The change is likely to boost demand for properties close to good schools, Esther Yong, director of ACproperty.com.au.

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