Australia has been accused of deliberately delaying Chinese PhD student visas because of political tensions and suspected spying.
According to The Global Times, over a hundred student hopefuls have been waiting more than eight months – three times longer than the advised visa approval time on the Australian immigration website – for news of their applications.
Despite having offers from universities, these applicants have allegedly not heard back from immigration and have no idea when they would get to begin their studies Down Under.
The Chinese daily suggested Australia was intentionally suspending the visa applications following suspicions that Chinese students were controlling Mandarin-language media in Australia and may be reporting the activities of Australian Chinese communities back to the Communist party.
Valerie Wang, a 22-year-old prospective PhD student at an Australian university, told the publication:
“Even though my mentor and my school [in Australia] are extremely nice, the visa issue cannot be solved due to political reasons. I have to develop a new life plan now. It might be a bit late, but it’s time I faced reality.”
Chinese students form 31.5 percent of Australia’s international student body, making them Australia’s biggest international student body, according to the Financial Times. But students are saying they will ‘vote with their feet’ and head elsewhere for their studies due to the disruption the visa delays have caused them.
Wang said she has already begun researching universities in the United Kingdom and the United States after giving up her dream of studying in Australia.
Another student in the same situation told The Global Times: “I advise others who want to pursue a PhD degree to be cautious and choose [your destination country] wisely,”
Chinese students in Australia were also issued a safety warning by Beijing due to rising political tensions between the countries, according to the Financial Times.
China’s Education Ministry reportedly warned of “a number of cases of violations of the personal safety of Chinese students studying in various parts of Australia, and of their property’s safety. Please all students studying in Australia maintain vigilance”.
There have been governmental, scholarly and social media accusations of the Chinese spying on and influencing the Chinese Australian community over the past few years.
Australia’s former defense secretary, Dennis Richardson, said that China is “actively engaged in spying,” on numerous occasions, according to The Global Times, while scholar Clive Hamilton published a book called ‘Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia’ last year.
A professor says his book was censored in Australia by the Chinese government; Clive Hamilton, professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University, Silent Invasion: How China is Turning Australia into a Puppet State
— #ReleaseNextMemo (@wakoppa) March 15, 2018
Hamilton said, however, that the publisher delayed the release of the book to censor material critical of the Chinese Communist party.
“What we’re seeing … is the first instance where a major Western publisher has decided to censor material of the Chinese Communist Party in its home country,” he said according to Quartz.
However, Michael Spence, vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney, accused Canberra of making “sinophobic blatherings” in the wake of concerns raised by intelligence officials about alleged spying by foreign students on Australian university campuses.
“Calling them spies or whatever without any evidence is just not very welcoming, and these are only kids whose families have made huge sacrifices to send them overseas and I just think we need to give them a fair go,” he said.