Australia Ranks the Risks of Foreign Student Applicants by Nation of Origin

By David North on February 2, 2016

Australia manages its screening of international students in a more systematic way than the United States does, but then it should — since it takes in five to seven times as many overseas students per capita as the United States (a questionable decision).

First the numbers: The most recent data for overseas students in Australia shows a total of 453,000 of them; in contrast, the most recent annual census of foreign students in the United States, conducted by the Institute for International Education, reported a total of 974,000 students.

The definitions used are not identical, with the Aussie numbers covering just about all of their foreign students (along with some admitted double counting) while the U.S. number excludes some marginal institutions that have foreign students, such as beauty and horseshoeing schools.

Nevertheless, there are 14 times as many people in the United States as there are in Australia, and that nation plays host to one-third to one-half as many foreign students as we do. Australia is consciously in the business of educating overseas people; in contrast, we do it more or less by accident.

Australia, like the United States, is a high-income country, and is not a police state. The international student population in both countries is drawn largely from low-income nations. So Australia faces the same problems that we do with many foreign students wanting to stay beyond their allotted time, except that the numbers there are proportionately much larger than they are here.

Australia has created and published a ranking system to sort out all student applicants into three categories: 1, low risk; 2, medium risk; and 3, high risk, based on their country of origin, with the risk being that the student will not leave the country when the visa expires.

Australia then applies these risk assessments to six different types of schools: English instruction, K-12, vocational, undergraduate study for a degree, graduate study for an advanced degree, and non-degree programs. Since Australia is working with 164 nations, and each nation has six rankings, this produces a matrix with a total of 984 boxes, but they have a software program that individualizes this easily for individual applicants.

All the educational categories have three possible scores, except graduate work, where the only scores are 1 and 2. If you add up each of the six scores for a nation, the range is from 6 for the least risky nations of origin (like the United States and Canada) to the most risky at 17. Myanmar and Bangladesh are among the nations with these scores. The two biggest sources of students for both the United States and Australia are India, with a score of 15, and China, with a score of 16.

The objective of the system is to give Australia's visa issuers a handy way of judging applicants. Applicants with higher scores have to make a much stronger argument that they really, really qualify than those with lower scores, and they are told that in advance.

The U.S. system keeps these variables in mind, but it is not organized in such a transparent manner. My sense is that U.S. decision-makers would shy away from a system that might be interpreted as finding that people from one country were three-times as good as those from another.

On the other hand, our visa waiver program, which is available to most rich countries, and not to most poor ones, operates on a graded system, but it is not quite so blatant as these Down Under ratings.

As an American who did his graduate work in New Zealand, I was interested to see that New Zealand — far from being placed in the same category as Canada and Great Britain — is given a ranking of 12, along with Honduras and Ukraine. The lure of Australia's prosperity and the wider ranges of opportunity apparently means that the risk of a Kiwi staying after study is pretty high. There always has been a lot of what is called Trans-Tasman migration, usually from New Zealand to Australia.

Similarly, Australia makes a big distinction between Americans from the mainland, with the lowest possible score of 6, and Americans from Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, where the scores are 12, 11, and 11 respectively.

The distribution of foreign students in the United States, were they to be judged by the Aussie system, is, as the table below shows, a bi-modal one, with 26.9 percent of the U.S. foreign students appearing in lowest-risk category of 6 points, and fully 55.2 percent in the three highest-risk categories of 15, 16, or 17 points.

This distribution reflects the reality that the nations whose young people most want overseas education are the very ones that produce the most risky student populations.

Suggestion: Perhaps one at least partial way out of this bind is to create financial rewards for alien students returning to their homelands (where one hopes that they would spread American notions of democracy). Before an alien student could secure an F-1 visa, he or she would have to deposit, say, $2,000-$3,000 in an interest-bearing bond that would grow in size over the college years, and that would be repaid only if the student applied for it in person, in the home country, and with a passport indicating that he or she had no visas in it for a return trip to the States. In many cases the bond would be put up by the student's relatives who, when graduation time comes, might well start asking the student to pay back the loan — which the student could do simply by going home again. It would be a student loan program with a different twist.

If the new graduate did not claim repayment after, say, two years, the United States would keep the funds.



How Australia Ranks the Risks Associated with Student-Sending Nations




(the lower the number, the lower the expected risk – the range is 6 to 17)


















Nations with these Scores (in alphabetical order) Number & Pct.
of These Students
in the U.S.
6 Andorra, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Denmark,
Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong (SAR), Iceland, Ireland,
Italy, Israel, Japan, Korea (S), Kuwait, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau (SAR), Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands,
New Caledonia, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, San Marino, Singapore,
Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, UK (British Citizen),
United States*, Vatican City State
7 Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Venezuela 70,300
8 Argentina, Botswana, Brazil, Hungary, Mauritius, Peru, Slovak Republic, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Thailand, Vanuatu 39,200
9 UK (British National Overseas) n.a.
10 Bahamas, Barbados, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Maldives, Papua New Guinea 11,500
11 Bhutan, East Timor, Guam*, Israel, Laos, Northern Mariana Islands*, Philippines, Turkey 16,400
12 Colombia, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, New Zealand, Puerto Rico*, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Ukraine 15,400
13 Croatia, Ecuador, Montenegro (Republic of), Nicaragua, Reunion, Romania, Russian Federation, Uruguay 11,000
14 Bosnia-Herzegovina, Jordan, Kazakhstan 4,500
15 Belize, Lebanon, India, Nepal, Suriname, Tanzania, Tonga, Vietnam, Zambia 163,100
16 Afghanistan, Bolivia, China (excl. SARs and Taiwan), Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Macedonia (Former Yugoslav Republic of), Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Syria, Yemen, Zimbabwe 328,700
17 Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Mongolia, Nauru, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tuvalu, Western Samoa 26,400
Total   938,800




















* The number of U.S. students studying in the United States is not included in third column.

Notes: The nations listed are those used by Australia. The total number of foreign students in the United States shown above is smaller than the total seen in the text because the United States has students from a number of nations not covered by the Australian ranking system. The sources of the data are referenced within the text above.