Australian universities are calling for visa restrictions for foreign students to be eased after figures revealed that there has been a significant drop in student arrivals from India and China.

These two countries have been the main source of students arriving in Australia in recent years but a drop in numbers means that self-funding universities could struggle financially.

Universities Australia, the national organisation that represents all 39 of the country’s universities, has suggested that restrictions should be eased for students from these two countries in particular.

In its submission on the future of the student visa system, the organisation says that students from these countries are facing an ‘extraordinary burden’ in terms of standards for student visa assessment. They come under Assessment Level three and four which are proving too stringent because of the amount of finance that is demanded.

‘Broadly, the extraordinary burden placed on high quality university students from Assessment Level 3 and 4 countries, particularly in terms of financial proof, is critically prohibitive to the ongoing sustainability of the international education industry,’ the submission says.

It warns that the situation ‘threatens our competitiveness internationally and potentially restricts Australian universities from attracting high quality international students from Assessment Level 3 and 4 countries’.

The submission also says that recent changes to skilled migration policy have left a high level of uncertainty and unpredictability surrounding international graduate work entitlements.

‘Universities Australia strongly asserts that a calibrated and clear solution to graduate work entitlements will strengthen the international education sector and provide important gains to Australia’s national interest whilst not compromising the integrity of Australia’s migration programme,’ it explains.

‘Universities Australia urges the Government to address this issue as matter of high priority.

Universities Australia believes that these two key elements, properly integrated with the specific recommendations listed below, will help to ensure the long term sustainability of the international education sector,’ it adds.

‘Universities Australia would welcome the Department of Immigration and Citizenship taking a more fine-tuned approach to current visa threshold requirements, in particular financial aspects, that takes account of cultural and regional differences,’ it concludes.

The Australian education sector is a multi billion-dollar industry that depends to a great extent on fee income from Indian and Chinese students.

During the 2009/10 fiscal year, 270,499 student visas were granted. There are 382,710 student visa holders in the country as of 30 June 2010. Of this number, 80,450 were Indian students, 80,010 were Chinese students and 21,720 were from South Korea.