Australia's student visa programme is proving popular with the latest official data showing that a record half a million plus international students were studying in Australia in 2016.

In the first half of the financial year the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBO) granted the highest number of student visa for the time period.

Overall the number of student visas granted from 01 July to 31 December 2016 increased by 8.5% on the same period previous year to a total of 156,453 with a record of 554,179 international students studying in the country.

Most students are coming from Asian countries with just over half, 50.3% from China, India, Nepal, Vietnam and South Korea. Of those in Australia at the end of 2016, some 19.9% were from China and 14.7% in India.

Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Alex Hawke, said that the student visa programme is important in Australia and they make vital contributions to academia, the communities in which they live and the Australian economy,.

'I am pleased that Australia's high quality education providers continue to attract top talent from overseas. Growth in our student visa programme is consistent with the Government's commitment to enhance Australia's education sector, now our third largest export industry,' he pointed out.

'Last year international education exports reached $21.8 billion, generating far-reaching economic benefits for everyday Australians. It is fantastic to see our visa framework supporting consistent growth to this important sector of Australia's economy,' he added.

To be eligible for a student visa, applicants must be accepted for full time study in a course listed on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS). Applicants must also meet financial, health insurance, English language proficiency and health and character requirements.

There is no limit on the number of student visas issued each year. If applicants meet requirements, they will be granted a student visa and student visas are generally issued for the entire period of study in Australia.

Overseas students must have health insurance for the duration of their stay in Australia. The OSHC assists international students to meet the costs of medical and hospital care that they may need while in Australia.

A decision to refuse a student visa application is made when there is reason to believe that the applicant does not meet the legal criteria for a visa. When refusing a visa application, the department provides an applicant, or their agent, with a written decision record that sets out the reason for the decision.