Australian Student Visas

The Overseas Student Program (OSP)

Students who already hold an Australian visa, as well as those wishing to apply for one, will know that an understanding of student visas can be quite complex. There are for instance 8 different subclasses of visa within Australia’s “Overseas Student Program“. Each of these is affected by what are called “assessment levels“. Each is also subject to “genuineness factors“. Visa conditions vary between different subclasses. Again, varied rules may govern primary applicants, as well as family unit members and guardians. Work rights may also vary.

We recommend that you seek full advice at an early stage, in order to have a sound understanding of what your options might be and how you might plan for your future. It may well be worthwhile seeking full advice before you commit to a course, or to even to one subclass of visa. Remember that some overseas agents may recommend courses that ultimately might not suit you or might prove too expensive for you to complete in the longer term, or which might not hold any potential for future residency.  Seek advice, understand and plan!


Here is a short overview of the OSP and some aspects of the visas within it:

Independent ELICOS Sector Visa – Subclass 570

This visa is designed to allow international students who wish to study English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (“ELICOS”) in Australia. Note that this may also include courses that lead either to Certificate I, II, III, or IV courses that result in no formal Australian Award.

It may be that you need to study ELICOS as a pre-requisite to another course. In such a case, you must apply for the visa appropriate to your main course of study. Should you intend to study several courses, the main course will be the highest level of study.

Schools Sector Visa – Subclass 571

This visa is designed for international students applying to study in Australia and whose main course of study is either:

• A primary school course;
• A secondary school course; or
• An approved secondary school exchange program.

Vocational Education and Training Sector Visa – Subclass 572

This visa is designed for international students who wish to study in Australia and whose main course is study is either:

• A Certificate I, II, III, and IV (this does not include ELICOS);
• A Vocational Education and Training (“VET”) Diploma;
• A VET Advanced Diploma;
• A Vocational Graduate Certificate; or
• A Vocational Graduate Diploma.

Higher Education Sector – Subclass 573

This visa is designed for international students applying to study in Australia and whose main course of study is either:

• A Bachelor degree;
• An Associate degree;
• A Graduate Certificate;
• A Graduate Diploma;
• A Masters by coursework;
• A Higher Education Diploma; or
• A Higher Education Advanced Diploma.

Note that streamlined processing of visa applications may apply for international students applying to study in Australia at a participating university. Applicants may be eligible for streamlined visa processing if the main course of study is a Bachelor degree or a Masters by coursework. Please note that if you obtain a visa via streamlined visa processing, there may be restrictions on your ability to change your course, or educational provider after you enter Australia.

In general terms, students who have permission to work, will be to work while holding a Subclass 573 visa, for a maximum of 40 hours per fortnight when their course is in session and work unlimited hours when their course is not in session. They cannot undertake work until they have commenced their course in Australia.

Postgraduate Sector Visa – Subclass 574

This visa is designed for international students who wish to study a Masters degree by research or a Doctoral degree in Australia.

Note that in most cases, students studying with Subclass 574 visa will be allowed to work unlimited hours once their Masters by research or Doctoral degree course has commenced.

They cannot however undertake work until they have started their course in Australian and they are restricted to 40 hours per fortnight while undertaking any preliminary course.

Non-Award Sector Visas – Subclass 575

This is a visa designed for international students who want to study the following courses whilst in Australia:

• A Non-Award Foundation Studies course; or
• Another full time course (or components of such a course) that does not lead to an Australian Award.

If it is a requirement that you study a Non-Award course prior to commencement of another course, you will need to apply for the visa appropriate to your main course of study. If there are several courses to be studied, the main course will be your highest levelled course.

Note that streamlined visa procession may apply to this visa for international students who want to study certain courses at a participating university in Australia. These courses are student exchange programs (semester or year) and study abroad programs (semester or year).

AusAid or Defence Sector Visa – Subclass 576

This is a visa designed for international students who are sponsored by either AusAid or Defence to study a full time course of any type in Australia.

Student Guardian Visa – Subclass 580

This is a temporary visa designed for use by a person who needs to come to Australia in order to provide care and support for either:

• A student visa holder who is younger than 18 years of age; or
• A student visa holder who is older than 18 years of age and who needs such care and support due to exceptional circumstances.

Please note that you may only apply by post for this visa and not online. There can only be one student guardian visa holder at any one time, in respect to a particular student visa holder (except in very limited circumstances).

In order to obtain this visa you will need to be a parent, or a person who has legal custody of a student visa holder, or a relative of the student visa holder who is nominated by the student’s parent or guardian. You will need to be at least 21 years of age, be able to provide accommodation and general welfare and other support to the student visa holder and meet financial, health, character and other requirements.

If you lodged your Student Guardian visa application after 24 March 2012, you will be able to study for up to 20 hours per week in an ELICOS course, or study in another course in Australia for up to three months.

Note that if you hold a Student Guardian visa, you cannot leave Australia without the nominating student, unless you provide to DIBP evidence that:

1. There are compelling compassionate circumstances; and
2. Other adequate arrangements have been made for the student’s accommodation, general welfare and support until you return to Australia and also demonstrate that those arrangements have been approved by the student’s education provider.

You will need to prove adequate medical insurance for yourself and any dependent children living with you in Australia whilst you hold a Student Guardian visa. It is also important to note that a Student Guardian visa has mandatory “no further stay” condition, which means that you will not be able to apply for any other type of visa whilst you are inside Australia, unless it is a further Student Guardian visa, or a Protection visa. You will not be able to work in Australia whilst holding a Student Guardian visa.


Aussie Migration Law can help all students through the maze of information and evidence that will be necessary in order to obtain the correct student visa. It is important that this be done correctly, particularly if students apply under streamlined visa processing arrangements.