Deferring your course while on a Student Visa

When unforeseen and difficult circumstances arise, it can be difficult for international students to manage their studies. To avoid unsatisfactory results, subject failure, or student visa cancellation, some students decide to defer their course (leave of absence or taking a break). Students that defer their studies typically do so for around 6-12 months, but it is important to be wary that some providers may have restrictions on how long a course can be deferred.

Related: More savings required, changes to concurrent COEs for international Students

How to defer your course while on a Student visa

According to the National Code, registered providers must assess the deferral of commencement of study or suspension of study for the overseas student in accordance with the registered provider’s documented procedures for assessing and approving changes to enrolment.

For example, the University of Canberra’s procedure is Deferring, Suspending or Cancelling an International Student’s Enrolment Procedure and this code mentions the following: ‘An international student who wishes to defer their course must submit an application for “Leave from Study – Intermission for International Student Visa Holders”, located on the University website’.

Criteria for course deferral

According to the National Code, a registered provider may defer or suspend the enrolment of a student if it believes there are compassionate or compelling circumstances. Students are required to provide evidence that supports their claims.

Education providers have their own policies that may specify circumstances in which they will allow course deferment, however this varies by institution.

A provider may allow an international student to study at a reduced load or put a deferral in place. This would require an extension of the Certificate of Enrolment (also known as a CoE) for compassionate or compelling reasons, i.e. circumstances beyond the control of the student and which affect the students’ course progress or wellbeing. Your institution will make a case by case decision based on its internal policies and procedures under
the National Code.

If students are permitted to defer their course of study, their course is considered “out-of-session” and there is no restriction on hours of work permitted. Students and their dependants are permitted to remain in Australia during the period of the deferral. However, the Department can consider visa cancellation where it is found that a student has deferred for non-genuine reasons and remains in Australia on a Student visa for purposes not
consistent with their visa.

If, under Standard 9 of the National Code, a provider allows an international student to study at a reduced load or put a deferral in place a student can still retain their student visa status. Work restrictions still apply but this avenue could reduce the financial cost of tuition fees per semester.

Defining ‘in session’ and “out of session”

A course is considered to be ‘in session’:

  • for the duration of the advertised semesters (including periods when exams are being held);
  • if a student is undertaking another course during a break from their main course and the points will be credited towards their main course.

A course is considered to be ‘out of session’:

Work rights during course deferral period

 The Student Visa has the condition 8105; ‘the holder must not engage in work in Australia for more than 40 hours a fortnight during any fortnight when the holder’s course of study or training is in session’. Lawful non-citizens in Australia have full work rights unless their visa has a condition saying otherwise. Therefore, if your course is not in session, you will have full work rights.

Condition 8105 

(1A)  The holder must not engage in any work in Australia before the holder’s course of study commences.

(1)  Subject to subclause (2), the holder must not engage in work in Australia for more than 40 hours a fortnight during any fortnight when the holder’s course of study or training is in session.

(2)  Subclause (1) does not apply:

(a)  to work that was specified as a requirement of the course when the course particulars were entered in the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students; and

(b)  in relation to a student visa granted in relation to a masters degree by research or doctoral degree if the holder has commenced the masters degree by research or doctoral degree.

(3)  In this clause:

fortnight means the period of 14 days commencing on a Monday.

My education provider agreed to defer my studies. Now my Student visa will expire before I complete my course. What should I do?

If you wish to remain in Australia to complete your studies, you will need to apply for a new Student visa. To do this you will need to satisfy the relevant legislative criteria for a Student visa, including obtaining a new Confirmation of Enrolment from your education provider.

University Procedures

Here are a few examples of the university procedures to apply to defer your studies:

Swinburne University- deferring or leave of absence from your studies
  • You may be able to take time off your course by taking a leave of absence or deferring. To be granted either a leave of absence or deferral, you need to apply and have the application approved.
  • Wherever possible, consideration of a period of leave should be applied for before the census date of the study period. If you’re unsure whether time off is the best option, or how it will affect completing your studies in future, you can discuss your thoughts with an International Student Adviser
  • As an international student, you may be able to take a leave of absence for six months at most. If the reason you’re on leave persists for more than six months, you need to speak to an International Student Adviser.
Leave of absence (studying onshore)

Leave of absence is available under certain circumstances to international students studying onshore in Australia who have completed at least one semester of study. You need to have a good reason for applying for a leave of absence. The most common reasons are a serious and long-lasting illness, or an injury that stops you from studying.

Mild illnesses, holidays and work commitments are not considered acceptable reasons to apply for a leave of absence.

If you hold an international student visa, you must remain enrolled and attend classes until you receive confirmation that your leave of absence has been granted.

Failure to remain enrolled in subject(s) in each semester or half year, or failure to apply for and be approved for an official Leave of Absence for any semester in which you do not intend to study, may result in cancellation of your course. If this happens, you will need to re-apply for admission into the current version of the course. Note: If the course structure has changed since your original course admission, some of the units you have completed may not be included in the new course structure.

As an international student, you can usually take a leave of absence for six months at most. If the reason you are on leave persists for more than six months, you need to speak to an international student adviser.

Leave of absence for medical reasons

If you’re applying for a leave of absence because of a serious illness or injury, you need to provide one or more of these documents, depending on your situation:

  • Medical Impact Statement ‌ [PDF 225KB]
  • medical certificate
  • specialist report, such a psychiatrist’s or surgeon’s report
  • treatment plan
  • personal statement that explains how the treatment plan will put you back on track to study.

If you’re a sponsored student, you also need to provide an approval letter from your sponsor.

Before we can process your application, you need to give us original documents or certified copies. We can only accept documents in English.

When to apply for a leave of absence

If you are a continuing student, try to submit your application for a leave of absence before the census date, as you’ll be liable for fees and academic penalties after this date.

Note: If you are a new student (in your first year and first semester of studies), you should apply for a deferral rather than a leave of absence.

University of Melbourne- COVID-19, Course duration and study load for student visa holders

While studying on a student visa, you  are required to complete your course by your visa expiration date, unless you have been approved for a Confirmation of Enrolment (CoE) extension for a valid reason.

In 2020, University of Melbourne automatically approved reduced study loads due to the impacts of COVID-19. If you were on a part-time study load in 2020 and are no longer on track to complete by your visa end date, please contact them as soon as possible to map out your remaining subjects.

In 2021, you need to maintain your full time enrolment load of 50 credit points in each half-year period unless you have a valid reason and have been approved to take a reduced study load and can provide supporting evidence.

Annabelle Hanley

Education Consultant

If you would like to discuss your matter or have questions on the above please book a consultation here.

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