Overseas Students

Students coming to Australia on a range of visas are sometimes referred to as “international students”. However, this term has no specific meaning in terms of the regulations that guide how such students are reported in the Census or the circumstances under which a school may need CRICOS approval to enrol particular students. The following information provides clarification on definitions and regulatory requirements for two groups of students - “students on a visa” and a defined subset of these who are referred to as “overseas students”.

Regulations and Programs Team
02 9299 2845

What is an 'Overseas Student'

The term “overseas student” has special meaning depending on circumstance:

Census: An “overseas student” for Census purposes refers to a student who enters Australia on a 500 sub-class student visa (or on a bridging visa attached to a substantive visa with study provisions), either with the primary purpose of that student undertaking a course of study, or (subject to exclusions noted below) as the dependant of another overseas student. “Overseas students” are reported in the Census both as “students on a visa” and as “overseas students”.

However, not all students on a 500 sub-class visa are “overseas students”. A student with a 500 sub-class visa is not an “overseas student” for Census reporting purposes if they are:

  • the dependant of a tertiary overseas student who is receiving a scholarship from an Australian tertiary institution, or from the Commonwealth, for their course
  • part of a registered student exchange program.

Such students are reported in the Census as “students on a visa” but not “overseas students”.

Students who are primary visa holders or dependants of people on other types of visas (e.g. a skilled worker visa and several others), are reported in the Census as “students on a visa” and are not “overseas students” for this purpose.

Students on a visa who are not reported at all in the Census (even as “students on a visa”) include those who:

  • are on a visitor’s visa and in Australia for less than 6 months, or
  • are on exchange and at the school for a period shorter than 6 months in a program year, or
  • have completed their formal schooling in their own country.

Further information is available through the 2018 Census Guidelines with information available on reporting students on a visa. Schools may also contact the Department of Education and Training with specific queries on Census requirements, by email or by phone on 1800 677 027 (select option 1 then option 3).


CRICOS: Schools must be CRICOS-registered (see further details below) to be able to enrol a student who is defined under the CRICOS framework as an “overseas student”. For CRICOS purposes, an “overseas student” refers only to a student who enters Australia on a 500 sub-class student visa, with the primary purpose of that student undertaking a course of study. Unlike the circumstance for Census reporting, no dependants of other 500 sub-class visa overseas students are included in this definition, so these dependants may enrol in a school which is not CRICOS-registered.

As for Census purposes, students with a 500 sub-class visa who are part of a registered (or unregistered) exchange program are also not considered (for CRICOS purposes) to be “overseas students”. As “students on a visa” they may therefore enrol in a school which is not CRICOS-registered. Schools may wish to refer to the AISNSW support document about enrolling students on visas.

CRICOS approval requirements

Independent schools delivering courses to school-aged overseas students must first be approved by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) and if approved, are then recommended to the Australian Government for approval and registration on the Commonwealth Register of International Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS). These school providers are then able to deliver courses to overseas students and are listed on the Australian Government CRICOS Register and on the NESA website.

NESA is also responsible for approving schools to provide Non-AQF Award English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS).

Registration and operational requirements for CRICOS and ELICOS providers are set out in the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act 2000 and the National CodeAs the ‘designated authority’ for approving CRICOS and ELICOS providers in NSW, NESA sets out its requirements for approval in the NESA Guidelines for Approved NSW School Providers Delivering Courses to Overseas Students, April 2018 (NESA CRICOS Guidelines). 

Key changes to the National Code that occurred in 2018 are reflected in DET Fact sheets on the National Code and in the revised NESA CRICOS Guidelines(it may useful to refer to the tracked changes version of the 2018 NESA CRICOS Guidelines) include:

  • protecting students by requiring more detail on a student’s course and refund arrangements in the written agreement between students and providers
  • strengthening arrangements for the care and welfare of students under the age of 18
  • providing greater guidance for providers on the circumstances in which student transfer requests should be granted
  • supporting overseas students to fulfil visa requirements by strengthening the provisions for monitoring overseas students’ course attendance and progress.

Procedures and timelines for applications for initial or renewed approvals are set out in section 7 of the NESA CRICOS Guidelines. A proposed school provider must submit an application to NESA not later than 31 March preceding the calendar year in which the proprietor wishes to commence operating as a school provider. NESA is moving towards synchronising renewals of CRICOS approvals with renewals of school registration (and other relevant approvals such as for Teacher Accreditation Authorities) for each provider.

NESA has developed proformas for document audits to assist schools to identify the policies, procedures and documentation that need to be maintained to demonstrate compliance with NESA requirements during the school’s period of approval.

AISNSW provides advice on CRICOS regulatory matters through the Regulations and Programs team – email regulations@aisnsw.edu.au or phone (02) 9299 2845.

Fees for CRICOS and ELICOS approval

NESA charges fees for applications for approval for CRICOS and ELICOS, as well as an annual fee, which is calculated on the approved capacity for enrolling overseas students.

All CRICOS registered providers are also required to pay fees to the Australian Government including:

Immigration Risk Ratings

All education providers offering CRICOS registered courses, and also all countries, are allocated an immigration risk rating between 1 and 3 by the Department of Home Affairs. The combined risk rating (provider plus country)guides the evidence that a student is required to submit with their visa application. Provider ratings only reflect recruitment practices and are not an indication of educational quality. Further information about risk ratings,including requests for access to a provider’s own rating reports, is available here.