Step-by-step: How int’l students in Australia can change courses

Studies in Australia: Switch courses
It could be harder for international students to switch courses, thesis or research topics after July 1, 2022. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

A recent change in student visa policy by Australia’s Department of Home Affairs (DHA) will make it more difficult for international students to switch their studies in Australia after July 1, 2022.

The Australian government will be changing the rules for Australian student visa (subclass 500) holders, which is expected to come into effect this July.

Quoting an explanatory statement issued by the federal home minister, NRI Affairs said the legislation “inserts a condition for Subclass 500 (Student) visa holders studying, or intending to undertake, higher education studies that they must not change their course of study, or research topic unless approved by the Minister”.

“The Minister cannot approve the change unless satisfied that there is not an unreasonable risk of unwanted transfer of critical technology by the visa holder,” it reads.

In other words, international students who have already enrolled in a course at an Australian university will not be permitted to switch their course of study, thesis or research topics after the stated time period unless granted by the Minister.

Switching studies in Australia: Understanding the new rules

The DHA’s website notes that international students must not undertake or change their course of study, thesis or research topic without the approval of the Minister, for a:

  • graduate certificate
  • graduate diploma
  • master’s degree
  • doctorate, or
  • any bridging course required as a prerequisite to a course of study or research for a master’s degree or doctorate

The change in student visa policy was brought about by the Department of Home Affairs to increase security measures to protect the country’s national security by preventing unwanted transfer of critical technology by the visa holder.

So, what does the future hold for international students? Are they destined to continue their enrolled studies in Australia until completion, or are there other options that would help them switch their studies in Australia?

Here’s a guide on what students could do:

Ways international students in Australia can switch courses

It’s worth noting that there is some confusion among students regarding the rule change and whether it applies to other programmes.

A report by the Australian Financial Review said a spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews denied any knowledge of the visa changes while Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s office did not respond before the deadline.

Students should wait for more clarification from the Department of Home Affairs. In the meantime, these are some considerations for those thinking about changing their courses:

Check visa conditions via VEVO

Current postgraduate international students in Australia can log in to their Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) or immigration account to see if their student visa will be affected by the visa policy change that is expected to take effect from July 1, 2022 onwards.

Apply to switch courses before July 1, 2022

For current students enrolled at Australian universities who intend on changing their courses, thesis or research topics, they may consider doing so before the ”no course-switch” law is expected to come into effect.

Studies in Australia: Change course, research topic or thesis before July 1 2022

Current postgraduate international students in Australia are recommended to switch course, thesis or research topic before July 1 2022. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

Seek advice from an expert

Students can consider consulting a registered migration agent or an education consultant for professional advice geared towards their individual circumstances.

Get help from a university advisor

Students can also consider booking several appointments with a university advisor to enquire about the steps involved in changing their study plans.

Fill up a form

Students considering changing their thesis, major or research topic must complete Form 1221 – Additional personal particulars information (PDF) and submit it to The subject line must be “8203/8204 assessment”. Click here for the form.

Wait for a decision

Bear in mind that it is up to the minister to grant students’ requests to change their course, thesis or research topic, provided there is no risk of unwanted transfer of critical technology.