Australian stakeholders are waiting to see if a new super portfolio consolidating the country’s security, immigration, and law enforcement responsibilities will have an impact on the international education industry after the Department of Home Affairs absorbed the Department of Immigration and Border Protection last month.

The newly formed department, overseen by former immigration and border protection minister and recently appointed minister for home affairs Peter Dutton, will assume the responsibilities of issuing visas, including study visas.

“The scale and complexity of our challenges are increasing; exacerbated by the evolution of technology and the sophistication with which criminals and terrorists operate,” Dutton said in a statement.

“For us to ensure continued successful responses, we require coordination and cooperation across departments, agencies and strong central policy support.”

Touted as one of the most significant reforms in Australia’s security and law enforcement arrangements, stakeholders are currently unsure if and how the merger will impact international students intending on coming to Australia.

“The jury’s still out on the extent to which two different departmental cultures merging into one will impact on the new department being conducive to student visa support,” IEAA chief executive Phil Honeywood said.

“In most cases, it seems to come down to the personnel involved, and already we’ve had examples of border protection background people taking on substantive senior management roles in the immigration student visa space.”

Speaking with The PIE News, Honeywood added that many of those who previously specialised in border protection would have a significant learning curve in understanding the benefits of international education and transitioning away from the type of scrutiny previously applied to other visa types.

“Crucially, the key people who are slotted into key decision making roles in the student visa space [need to be] properly educated to the nuances of supporting the international education sector.”

So far, he added, study visa application grants appear to be at the same level or better than before the merger a month ago, but that could change.

While it is unclear whether there will be a change in the way DHA sees study visa applications compared to DIBP, Joff Allen, chief executive of EduCo International Group, warned uncertainty or alteration to policy could hurt Australia’s industry in the long run.

“The thing that international students react poorly to is change of policy that impacts them when they’re here,” he said.

“What we saw some years ago was… the ongoing and continuing change of policy that disrupted the market. Students want to be able to go to a country where they can see the environment for them is relatively stable.”

According to Honeywood, providers have expressed the majority of concerns, rather than agents or students, who feel there may be a change into the way in which they accept students into their programs.

“[Providers have] perception concerns at this stage… that it will involve a whole new approach of being more forensic about potential young people who get the right to come and study in Australia,” he said.

In addition to taking over immigration responsibilities, DHA will also oversee national and transport security, federal law enforcement, criminal justice, cyber security, border, multicultural affairs, emergency management and trade related functions.

Departments and organisations that will also be rolled in DHA include the Australian Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Federal Police and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre will come under the new department, with the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation expected to join later this year.

This is the second time this decade the immigration department has undergone change, after rebranding from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in late 2013.

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