Studying in Australia on a Student Visa (Subclass 500)

For anyone interested in studying in Australia either as an exchange student or for their entire degree, applying for the right visa may feel somewhat overwhelming. As an international student now on my second student visa in Australia, however, I am happy to report that the process is actually rather simple and doesn’t have to take more than a single evening of your time. In this brief but comprehensive guide to the new Subclass 500 Student Visa, I’ll describe relevant visa conditions, required documents and evidence, and the online application process.

Just note that all of this information is based on my own experience and my own understanding of the visa process— I am not a migration agent or an employee of Home Affairs, so always do your own research.

Visa entitlements and conditions

Aside from obviously allowing you to study full-time at an Australian university, there are several other important entitlements included in a Subclass 500 Student Visa. Firstly, you are actually able to work on this visa, so long as your commitments do not exceed 40 hours per fortnight during session. This means that in ANY 2 week period, you can’t work more than 40 hours (e.g. you can work 5 hours in Week 1, 35 hours in Week 2, and then you will only be able to work 5 hours in Week 3).

As an international student who is paying tuition fees up front and doesn’t have the luxury of living with family to save on rent, this is likely to feel like a severe restriction, but the government is just trying to prevent people from entering Australia under the guise of studying when their true intention is to work. On uni breaks and over the summer, you can go back to working as many hours as possible to save up (the Subclass 500 visa also allows you unlimited exit and re-entry into Australia, so the only limit to the amount of international travel you partake in is your funds). You can find a full list of visa restrictions on Home Affairs, but essentially you’ll just need to remain enrolled and studying full time, and probably also avoid any run-ins with the administration or the law, while on this visa.

Confirmation of Enrolment & Health Cover

Before you apply for the 500 Visa, you’ll need to obtain a Confirmation of Enrolment (CoE) from your university. This is just an electronic document that specifies your course, your expected completion date, the fees you are responsible for, and confirms that you have paid for the mandatory Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC). Every uni is different, but most will be partnered with a private insurer to offer health cover at a discounted rate (UOW is with Bupa, for example) so it is incredibly easy to get an approved plan that will meet your visa requirements.

You will, however, need to pay fees for the entire duration of the plan up-front, which can range from $1,000 to $15,000 depending on how many years you are studying and the family members you wish to include on the plan. For 3 years as a single policy holder, I paid just under $2,000 with the university discount, but the price of including a partner for that same time would have been over $10,000, which seems absolutely crazy but is sadly true. Make sure you do adequate research on OSHC so you aren’t caught off guard by a bill you’ll never be able to pay. And, seriously, go through your Uni, the savings are substantial.

Documents & evidence

The exact documents you’ll be required to submit will depend upon your citizenship, but here are the standard things you’ll be asked for when applying for a 500 visa:

  • Your CoE, as described above
  • Proof of an active OSHC policy that will cover you and anyone listed on your application (partner, family, dependents) for the duration of your study
  • Identity documents: on both of my student visas, I submitted only a scan of my passport, but you may also be asked to include a certified copy of your driver licence or birth certificate
  • A copy of your resume or CV, detailing all previous work and education. You may also want to include transcripts from previous study as supporting evidence.
  • If you are from a non-English speaking country or if English is not your native language, you will need to prove that you meet basic language requirements.
  • Proof of financial solvency, which can just be a bank statement showing enough funds to cover your first year of tuition, reasonable living expenses, and a return flight home. I didn’t actually submit a bank statement in my more recent application, but I did provide evidence of my scholarship, which seemed to be sufficient.
  • A summary of your thesis topic, if you are commencing a research degree. For this, I just had my supervisor sign a half-page letter describing my proposed project.
  • Evidence of being a “Genuine Temporary Entrant”, which can be in the form of a statement (read more about this below).

Genuine Temporary Entrant

Essentially, this new requirement (which was not part of the application when I got my first visa) is to further ensure that people are not entering Australia under the pretext of study when their true intention is to remain in Australia permanently. As this is the part of the 500 Visa process that seems to cause the most concern among applicants, I thought I’d just include the statement that I originally submitted with my 2016 Student Visa application below to show what passes as sufficient evidence.

After studying in Australia at the University of Wollongong from 2013 to 2015 and receiving a Bachelor in Medical and Health Sciences, I formed a close professional relationship with a team of researchers at the University and have since been asked to come back and continue my research under an International Post-Graduate Tuition Award through UOW and a stipend awarded by the Australian Institute of Sport. Between completing my Bachelor in November 2015 to July 2016, I lived in Melbourne on a Working Holiday Visa to save money for continuing my education in Wollongong, and during this time I worked for ANZ Bank. Researchers at the University of Wollongong notified me in May 2016 that they brokered a deal with the Australian Institute of Sport to fund my research into biomechanics of elite female athletes and I have since moved back to Wollongong to apply for a student visa to participate in this amazing research opportunity. Pending future scholarship and grant opportunities, I may consider staying in Australia to complete a post-doc with the same research team (Biomechanics Research Lab at UOW). My interest in this course is genuine and is not purely to remain in Australia.

This is honestly all I wrote for the GTE and it satisfied the requirement, so don’t stress. This statement may be longer depending on your personal circumstances, but it really just needs to include 3 things:

  1. An explanation as to why you want to study in Australia over your home country. For me, that was related to my previous study here and my scholarship offer (which I attached as further evidence).
  2. A justification for choosing a specific course, which can be supported by the relevance to your other qualifications or your future career goals (a CV is useful as supporting evidence). I chose to highlight the link with my previous course of study and my relationship with the research team at the university. This is about making sure that you didn’t just pick a course at random so you’d be able to enter Australia.
  3. Reasonable evidence that you intend to stay in Australia on a temporary basis. As you can see, I didn’t touch much on this topic, but you might cite a serious relationship/extended family or a job offer back home as proof that you intend to return after completing your course. In fulfilling this requirement, I think it is most important to be honest, which is why I included information on what I had been doing in Australia since the completion of my previous course and conceded that I would possibly remain in Australia after my study depending on further research opportunities.
Boroka Lookout in Grampian National Park

Applying for a Subclass 500 Student Visa

Once you have prepared all of your documents, you’re ready to actually complete the online application for your visa (either inside or outside of Australia). This is done through Home Affairs’ online platform ImmiAccount, to which you’ll need to register. The application itself has gotten much longer in recent years, but it’s still fairly straightforward. In addition to generic personal questions, you’ll be asked to provide information on:

  • your funds and OSHC
  • your previous education
  • your complete employment history
  • your fulfilment of the English language requirements 
  • every country you’ve ever visited/lived in, including dates
  • your visa history
  • your medical history
  • a long series of declarations about your character, fulfilment of all visa requirements, and the legitimacy of all information included in your application

As of 2018, the Subclass 500 Student Visa is $560AUD, but this amount is subject to change and does not include any family members or dependents that may be listed on your application. After paying and submitting your application, you’ll be issued with a Transaction Reference Number, which you can then use to track the status of your visa. Depending on the strength of the application and a number of other factors, you might be asked to submit further evidence or even be called in for an interview, but, in talking to other international students, it seems far more likely that you will receive your visa without any further requests if you submitted all required documents in the first place. Looking at my own ImmiAccount, my most recent 500 Visa was granted within 6 days of the application and I was notified via email. Happy studying!

I hope this information has been helpful and I wish you luck on your studies in Australia! Feel free to ask any questions below and I will do my very best to answer them.

I am not a migration agent or affiliated with Home Affairs in any way, so all the information provided in this post and in the comments below is based entirely on my own experience and my own understanding of the application process.