International graduates use Australia’s post-study work visa to obtain residency, not jobs – but often because they need residency to get jobs.
Research into overseas students who remain in Australia after completing their studies challenges a widely held view that they use temporary graduate visas as a back-door migration route.
Researcher Ly Thi Tran said many international students used post-study work visas, the most popular stream of temporary graduate, or 485, visas, as a “vehicle” to acquire permanent residency (PR). But this was often to “compensate” for 485 visas’ shortcomings in the eyes of employers.
“While PR may act as a ‘licence’ for international graduates to gain access to the labour market, the temporary graduate visa does not represent a competitive advantage in jobseeking,” Dr Tran reported.
“Rather, the 485 visa provides an extended time period to build a network of contacts, gain work experience, acquire improved English language skills and invest in their social capital in Australia.”
Dr Tran’s study is among the first to investigate the experiences of people on temporary graduate visas since a 2013 rule change. Preliminary results have been published in an International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) report on foreign students’ employability.
Dr Tran said interviews had revealed that many employers did not understand the 485 visa, and those who did believed that people with PR had better language skills and local knowledge. Bosses also worried about the “complexities and unclarity” of 485 visa conditions.
International graduates said the visa’s main benefit was the extra time it afforded in Australia. Many used the time “strategically” to improve their English, gain work experience and expand their Australian networks.
The study includes a survey that has so far attracted about 800 respondents, with 62 per cent saying the visa is useful as a PR pathway and 71 per cent that it helps provide work experience opportunities. But just 33 per cent say it has positively affected their work status.
The survey also found that 37 per cent of graduates had full-time jobs in their fields of study, while 13 per cent worked part-time or casually in their chosen areas. Another 34 per cent were working in other fields, with 16 per cent still looking for jobs.
Phil Honeywood, IEAA chief executive, said that until now, Australia had lacked the data to draw “informed conclusions” about the benefits of post-study work visas. He said that while some students were driven by the prospect of migration, a 2018 Department of Home Affairs and Treasury report had shown that fewer than 20 per cent of fee-paying international students ultimately secured permanent visas.
“There are other motivations for international students taking up the post-study work option, and these motivations may well be to work in any job – not necessarily a job that’s related to their studies here – that will assist them in either paying back their student loan from their overseas bank, or even repatriating some money back to their family.
“Individuals from some source countries might come here with a plan to get a migration outcome. But they may have to resort to their Plan B, which is to earn enough funds to pay back the loan or save some money to start a business or launch themselves back home.”