Australia boosts work rights for overseas master’s graduates

Three-year post-study work visa features among changes to lure students and reduce costs to institutions

November 25, 2021
Source: iStock

Australia’s government has added a year to overseas master’s graduates’ post-study work rights, in an effort to help the struggling international education industry “roar back” as borders reopen.

Taught master’s students will now be able to stay and work in Australia for three years after graduating, while vocational education and training students – who have attracted no post-study work rights – will now qualify for two-year temporary graduate visas.

The changes, part of a package of measures unveiled ahead of a forthcoming national strategy for international education, are likely to boost Australia’s allure to employment-focused students and hand it a competitive advantage over rival destinations like the UK.

Britain attracted South Asian students at Australia’s expense after restoring post-study work rights in 2019. While the UK’s two-year offer matched the duration then available to taught postgraduate students in Australia, British master’s courses typically take half as long.

Australia’s new three-year visa addresses concerns that the two-year limit was inadequate, with newly minted foreign professionals struggling to accrue meaningful work experience within 24 months.

The government will also allow people who have obtained post-study work visas, but have been unable to use them because of border closures, to apply for “replacement” visas of equal duration.

And the government has extended emergency measures introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic, whereby time spent overseas studying online for Australian qualifications contributes to people’s eligibility for graduate work rights.

Education minister Alan Tudge said that the extension would address the disadvantage students had faced because they had been shut out of Australia. “This will help ensure the rapid return of international students,” he said.

The Group of Eight said that the changes would also help Australia attract and retain skilled workers. “Today’s announcement is an important step in…ensuring the nation gains maximum benefit from our international education sector,” said chief executive Vicki Thomson.

“Facilitating short and long-term migration outcomes for high-achieving students in key disciplines is essential to ensure Australia can meet the needs of strategically important industries.”

The government will also spend more than A$37 million (£20 million) on measures mainly targeting private colleges. They include a 12-month extension to emergency arrangements exempting institutions from paying regulatory fees and private college students from paying a 20 per cent loan fee.

The measures also include a A$9 million boost to the Innovation Development Fund to help English language colleges “diversify” their education offerings into online and offshore delivery.

Brett Blacker, chief executive of representative body English Australia, said that the fund had proven a “lifeline” in a sector where visa applications had crashed to about 8 per cent of their pre-pandemic levels. He said that the sector’s “purely face-to-face” model had been transformed, with most students now taking lessons remotely from overseas – a change likely to outlive the pandemic.

“These courses are enabling students to start their programmes, join classes and get familiar with institutions, which will support the future pipeline [of enrolments] and offer some diversity for students who may not be able to come to Australia initially, but still need development in their English language.”

Simon Finn, chief executive of Independent Higher Education Australia, said that the extension of the fee exemptions would make it “much easier for providers to recover” while the additional work rights would help foster enrolments. “We need to have the settings right to attract international students to Australia.”

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