For marketers, this is an ideal sale. Brand loyalty and word of mouth are two of the most powerful marketing tools available to any business and education players in both Australia and the US, which offers a similar short-term working visa, understand this.
But when it comes to measuring the impact of Australia’s working holiday visas and the US J-1 programme on international education enrolments, until recently, there was not complete data for this Working Holiday Maker visa category.
In Australia that reveals that for 2014-15, 8,662 WHM visa holders continued on to a student visa from Australia; however, the figures for offshore student visa grants where the last visa held was WHM are harder to obtain. After submitting a request to DIBP, however, The PIE received clearance to publish the following data: 4,642 student visas were granted in 2014-15 for persons outside Australia whose previous visa was either a 417 or 462 visa.
While the figures represent a fairly niche section of the broader education market, at about 4.4% of the almost 300,000 student visas granted during that period, the 13,000 students converted from WHM visas are the third highest source of onshore students, and if treated like their own country, would represent Australia’s fifth highest source market.
Numbers compiled by English Australia show 17,786 English learners in 2015 held a WHM visa
Australia offers two Work and Holiday Maker visa schemes for 18- to 30-year-olds to promote cultural exchange to Australia. Both the Working Holiday (subclass 417) and the Work and Holiday (subclass 462) visa allow holders to work and study within Australia for up to 12 months, with generally no more than six months working for the same employer.
Both visa streams are restricted to certain countries: 19 are eligible for the 417 Working Holiday visa and 16 are eligible for the 462 Work and Holiday visa. Of the 35 eligible countries, seven are within the top 15 international education source countries for Australia, including Japan, South Korea, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the US. The comparable scheme for the US is the J-1 exchange visitor programme.
In the USA, while there are some similarities to Australia’s WHM scheme, there are also differences. A noticeable distinction is in addition to Summer Work Travel (SWT), which provides seasonal work, usually in the hospitality sector, to college and university students at least 18 years old, the exchange programme offers 12 other streams.
Vacation resorts are a popular choice for workers. Photo: CIEE
The most significant difference, however, is the high level of scrutiny placed on the implementation and issuing of visas. Run by the US Department of State, the programme requires applicants to have a visa sponsor, which has resulted in an industry of third party providers who receive payment to assist applicants to understand the visa process and connect with employers.
There are also a handful of employers who provide their own sponsorship programme, such as Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
Daniel Ebert, vice president of international exchange at Greenheart International, a third party provider based in Chicago, explains: “Companies apply for designation with the Department of State, and fill out a lengthy application process that gives the department assurance that we are knowledgable in programme regulations and we know how to administer it.”
While market sensitivities mean sponsors don’t publicly list their fees, Ebert believes most keep fees under $1,500. He notes that amount is quite expensive in respect to what most sponsors normally charge, but says fees fluctuate depending on the level and number of services students require.
“Academic programmes are quite expensive,” he adds. “The model of work and travel is so attractive because they can come here, work, earn enough money to pay back their programme and then maybe have a little more in their pocket when they go back home.”
Meghann Curtis, executive vice president of international exchange programs at CIEE, one of the country’s leading third party providers, argues the focus on cultural exchange is the J-1 visa’s strength.
“We are typically able to recruit students for every ‘slot’ that we are allocated—which is to say that they are all very popular and for different reasons”
“It enables young people and professionals from around the world to come to the US and engage in cultural and educational exchange with the objective of getting to know the US, understand US society and then take that experience back home with them in their life,” summarises Curtis.
As well as SWT, CIEE offers High School, Intern, Trainee and Camp Counsellor exchanges under the J-1 visa programme. “Every year, the Department of State issues us a set number of DS-2019 forms [certificates of eligibility] for each of these programmes and we are typically able to recruit students for every ‘slot’ that we are allocated—which is to say that they are all very popular and for different reasons,” says Curtis.
Working holiday makers on a placement with Greenheart International
Greenheart’s director of international partner development, Jason Nusser, adds: “Teen short-term programmes are also very popular. These programmes are relatively low-cost and provide young people an excellent opportunity to learn about US culture through a homestay experience.”
With this model of low-cost cultural exchange, the J-1 visa programme prioritises the US’s soft power agenda more so than Australia’s WHM visa programme. This is especially evident in former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, where young people are invited to live and work in a country that only a few decades prior would have been markedly less welcoming.
Australia’s WHM visa holders are allowed up to four months of study, which typically results in them undertaking a short English course, although other short courses are permitted. “The working holiday market is an important source of students, mostly for our private and stand-alone ELICOS member colleges,” says Brett Blacker, CEO of English Australia.
One of the association’s member institutions saw almost one third of its students holding either a WHM or tourist visa in 2015, according to Blacker.
The whole sector does not experience such high a conversion, but numbers compiled by English Australia show 17,786 English learners in 2015 held a WHM visa, representing roughly 10% of the English learners around the country.
Vocation providers received almost two-thirds of all WHM visa conversions, reflecting the correlation between vocational study and work the programmes allow. ACPET CEO, Rod Camm, suggests the ability for WHM holders to undertake short courses might also influence these figures.
“They have their working holiday, they do their short course, they like what they see so they come back and genuinely study”
“There’s a lot of VET courses like barista training and responsible service of alcohol,” says Camm, pointing out many holders undertake hospitality short courses to qualify for employment. This in turn may promote the institution for further study. “They have their working holiday, they do their short course, they like what they see so they come back and genuinely study,” suggests Camm.
Photo: Trade and Investment Queensland
Similar to Australia, the US’s SWT stream does allow participants a degree of English language study. However, it’s fairly rigid, precluding holders from coming to the US with the intent of equal parts English learning and work.
Statistics on how many of the over 90,000 SWTs in 2014 chose to undertake English instruction are either hard to come by, or, significantly more likely, don’t exist. The J-1 framework also prevents holders from applying for another visa while in the US, which means onshore conversion is zero.
There is even less information on visa progression figures for J-1 visa holders. But positive experiences through both schemes are likely to result in international enrolments, either through former working holiday makers returning as a students, or being influential advocates among their peers.
Ultimately, the programmes serve a soft diplomacy purpose which not only sees Australia and the US inviting the world to its shores, but sees its own young people welcomed abroad as well.