Their students may receive preferential visa treatment compared to other educational institutions, but universities have been hit with an extra hurdle in a streamlined visa scheme for exporters.
Under rules introduced in mid November, universities’ international staff can no longer apply directly for the APEC Business Travel Card, which gives people unfettered entry to 18 Asia-Pacific countries.
Their employers must now be certified as “genuinely engaged in international trade” by one of the peak business groups, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry or the Australian Industry Group, before they can apply.
La Trobe University senior deputy vice-chancellor John Rosenberg said the scheme essentially provided an automatic visa for three years.“We have staff who are recruiting students, who travel to China two, three, four times a year. Without an APEC card they have to apply every time for a visa – it’s costly and time-consuming.
“As the DVC responsible for internationalisation, I travel quite frequently for very short trips of two or three days. I can decide to go within a day and be off, knowing I’ve got a visa.”
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the new arrangements would make the scheme more widely available. “It ensures that most small to medium-sized businesses can enjoy the same level of access to the ABTC as large global companies,” he said.
But large global companies don’t have to be certified, provided they’re on the Forbes Global 2000 business list.
Exemptions also apply to businesses that have recently received Austrade export market development grants or appeared as finalists in the Australian Export Awards.
Professor Rosenberg said it would be difficult or impossible for universities to meet these exemption categories.
“It would have been helpful, perhaps, had universities been explicitly recognised,” he said.
“Clearly universities are a very significant exporter in Australia. Education is the fourth largest export industry in the country, and by far the largest in Victoria.”
University-to-university links within the region have been key themes of the Asian Century white paper and recent Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation discussions.
However Professor Rosenberg said he didn’t interpret the new requirement as a slap in the face for universities.
“My only concern is that it’s still reasonably straightforward for appropriate people in universities to apply for the APEC card. If it’s a reasonably straightforward process, that’s fine.”
ACCI said it hadn’t received applications from universities so far, and was in discussions with the Immigration Department about exactly how to handle them.
It said that in general terms the new arrangements were an improvement on the scheme which had previously been limited to top-level staff in larger exporters.
The Immigration Department said university staff would continue to benefit from the scheme, but didn’t comment on why universities hadn’t been included in the exempt category. (The Australian)