Post-study work rights for graduates with degrees that teach sought-after skills will be increased by two years in an attempt to tackle Australia’s labour shortages.
This means that graduates with select bachelor’s degrees will be able to stay in the country for four years, those with master’s degrees eligible for five years, and those with PhDs for six.
It is yet to be announced which degree programs will be permitted for the extended visas, but the country is currently struggling to fill vacancies in sectors including nursing, engineering and technology.
A working group will be established to advise on which courses will be eligible and the group will report to the government before the end of October.
The group will include representatives from the International Education Association of Australia, the National Tertiary Education Union, Universities Australia, and the government’s home affairs and education departments.
The announcement was made at the government’s Job and Skills Summit in Canberra, which earlier this week saw stakeholders discuss the possibility of filling Australia’s almost half a million job vacancies with foreign graduates.
“At the moment, only 16% of international students stay on after their studies end”
“At the moment, only 16% of international students stay on after their studies end,” said education minister Jason Clare. “This will mean they can stay on longer and use the skills they’ve gained in Australia to help fill some of the chronic skills shortages we have right now.”
Australia’s international education sector has welcomed the news, with stakeholders expecting the measures to both help boost the workforce and increase the country’s appeal to prospective international students.
“The new federal government has hit the ground running in its attempts to restore Australia’s reputation as a welcoming inclusive study destination country,” Phil Honeywood, CEO of IEAA, told The PIE News.
“A key part of this has to be providing our international students with policy frameworks that provide confidence that many more of them will be supported to live, learn and stay in Australia.”
Sarah Todd, global vice president at Griffith University, told The PIE that the university was “delighted” by this recognition of “the important role that international graduates do and can play in a number of sectors across the Australian economy.”
“As ever, it will be important that prospective applicants are provided with the right information and that their choice of academic program and institution is made for the right reasons,” Todd said.
“It will also be important that all Australian universities that offer programs in the designated disciplines are well set up to support and prepare students for their transition to employment in Australia.”
Jon Chew, global head of insights and analytics at Navitas, said that longer visas will be “attractive” to students and give employers confidence in hiring international graduates.
“While we can address the quantity of post-study work rights, we must not lose sight of the quality of post-study work,” Chew warned. “Previous research has shown that many international graduates are not able to successfully transition from low-skilled university jobs into high-skilled graduate careers.”
The government also announced that the number of hours that international students can work will be capped once again in June 2023, reversing the relaxation of restrictions in January, although a decision has not yet been made on what the cap will be.
“It is unclear what the rules will be between now and [June 2023]”
“It is unclear what the rules will be between now and [June 2023],” said Chew. “If the hours remain completely uncapped during this time, then the student visa will be increasingly seen as a de facto work visa, with all the likely attendant issues of increased pressure to work, distracted students, decreased retention, and the attraction of cohorts for whom the primary objective is work not study.”
Honeywood agreed, saying, “We need to be very cautious that the current uncapped work rights available while studying does not lead to young people coming to our country with no genuine intention of studying.”
The government said that it hopes to strike “the right balance between work and study”.
It also announced an additional AUS$36.1 million investment in visa processing, following delays that have hampered the international education sector’s recovery since borders reopened earlier this year.
Responding to the news, Todd said she hopes that this will “reduce the uncertainty that some applicants are currently experiencing given the delays in processing that have followed the easing of Covid-related travel restrictions.”