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Australia: in-study work and post-study work linked, report finds

One of the strongest predictors of whether an international graduate will find employment on Australia’s post-study work visa is whether they worked during their studies. But while employment rates are high, Australia is not fully benefiting from the scheme, a new report released by the International Education Association Australia has found.

In-study work is a strong predictor of post-study employment. Photo: IEAAIn-study work is a strong predictor of post-study employment. Photo: IEAA

"There really is a category of student for whom the PSW visa is serving a different purpose"

The Economic opportunities and outcomes of post-study work rights in Australia report, released at the Australian International Education Conference, found almost three-quarters of 485 visa holders were in full-time or part-time employment.

“It’s… time for a formal evaluation of the temporary graduate visa program”

“Until now there has been a dearth of data on graduate outcomes,” said IEAA president Melissa Banks.

“Post-study work rights are crucial for Australia to remain competitive in the global education market. The more we can enhance graduate outcomes, the better for all – students, education providers, employers and the broader Australian community.”

Using the Australian Census and Temporary Entrants Integrated Dataset, which links census and visa holder information, the report found a strong correlation between working while studying and post-graduate employment and unemployment.

“The students that work while they are studying are more likely to be working after they graduate,” said the report’s author Jon Chew.

“It’s quite likely because they keep working in the same jobs they had while they were studying.”

The report also found a mismatch between skill level and discipline, with 17% of PSW visa holders working in low skilled jobs such as retail, wholesale and hospitality.

Of those who had completed studies in the four biggest fields of education – IT, engineering, health, and management and commerce – 26% were working in their field.

Chew, who is also a principal of business management consultancy, said it was likely many of those in low-skilled jobs were working in the same role as when they were studying.

Speaking with The PIE News, however, he said caution should be taken when determining whether a graduate’s area of employment was a successful outcome for them.

“Field of study is important, but it’s very hard to measure. If you’re a business graduate or an arts and humanities graduate, what’s a relevant field for you?” he asked.

“You could end up in healthcare; you could end up in an engineering firm.”

Similarly, Chew noted the 26% not currently employed also included 12% listed as not in the labour force, which suggested that some may use the visa to prolong their in Australia for non-work related purposes.

“If you’ve got the means to dedicate yourself to study during your university years, it’s not inconceivable that once you graduate, you might take a bit of a break or a gap year or try to do something different,” he said.

“There really is a category of student for whom the PSW visa is serving a different purpose.”

While the report provided alternative reasons behind outcomes for 485 visa holders, it concluded the mismatch between the type of employment found and a graduate’s skill level and discipline meant Australia was not benefiting from the full productivity and benefits of its international cohort.

“Australia’s post-study work rights scheme could develop a reputation as an opportunity primarily for pragmatic income generation,” the report said.

“Field of study is important, but it’s very hard to measure”

“This could have foreseeable, significant adverse consequences for Australia in terms of its reputation as a study destination, and in the eventual mix of students that are drawn to study here.”

IEAA chief executive Phil Honeywood said the findings of the report showed it was now time to reconsider the current PSW settings.

“It’s… time for a formal evaluation of the temporary graduate visa program against its stated policy objectives,” he said.

“Graduates with a bachelor or master’s degree by coursework are only eligible for a two-year work visa. Is this really enough time to gain meaningful, course-related experience in the Australian workplace?”

The report comes after another study of PSW released by Deakin University and authored by Ly Tran, Mark Rahimi and George Tan, which found similar rates of full-time and part-time employment among 485 visa holders.

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