Australia cuts post-study work visas by two years

Representative groups broadly welcome focus on quality and integrity, but proposed changes to migration points test will be pivotal

December 11, 2023
Wildebeest migration
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While there will be winners and losers from Australia’s long-anticipated tightening of international education policy settings, industry figures believe the impacts could have been worse – particularly in higher education, which may be a net beneficiary of the reforms.

In a migration strategy released on 11 December, the federal government has rescinded the extensions to post-study work rights it announced only 15 months ago while slashing the age limit for temporary graduate visa applicants from 50 to 35.

The government will also increase minimum English language requirements to the equivalent of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score of 6.0 for student visas – up from 5.5 at present – and 6.5 for temporary graduate visas. It will also intensify its scrutiny of student visa applications lodged onshore, particularly by people on graduate visas, in a bid to restrict “visa hopping” that fuels “permanent temporariness”.

Other measures include replacing the “genuine temporary entrant” requirement with a “genuine student test”. The aim is to discourage people “whose primary intention is to work rather than study”, while acknowledging that temporary and permanent migration options exist “for those who may be eligible”.

But in a series of sweeteners, the government has also flagged clearer and faster migration pathways for graduates with attributes required in Australia’s workforce. It also plans support measures and further research to help foreign students “realise their potential” by getting “the right job” after graduation.

Visa processing times for graduates with Australian degrees will have a “21-day service standard”, compared with a median 44 days at present.

Peter Hurley, director of Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute, said the reforms would reduce the overseas enrolment growth rate. Dr Hurley said the number of current and former international students in Australia was nudging 850,000 and “hurtling towards 1 million”, and the government wanted “a more manageable level”.

He said the reforms would mainly affect lower quality vocational education and training (VET) colleges rather than the higher education sector. The increased English language requirements would not make much difference to most universities, which already required IELTS 6.0 for admission, while the backflip on post-study work rights – granting bachelor’s graduates two years of work rights, rather than four – was in line with overseas trends. Similar changes were under consideration in the UK, Dr Hurley said. 

The Australian changes will limit post-study work rights to two years for foreigners with bachelor’s or taught master’s qualifications, and three years for those with higher research degrees. At present, work rights total four, five and six years respectively years for bachelor’s, master’s and PhD graduates.

However, foreigners who study in regional areas will still qualify for an extra year or two of work rights, under changes introduced in 2019. In another reform likely to benefit non-metropolitan institutions, people seeking visas to visit regional Australia will be granted “highest processing priority”.

Representative groups have broadly welcomed the strategy, amid media commentary blaming international students for Australia’s housing crisis. While a cap on foreign enrolments has been proposed, the strategy includes no such measure and it makes no mention of the international student levy under consideration by the Australian Universities Accord.

The International Education Association of Australia said the government had been under “incredible pressure” to “clean up some bad policy settings” inherited from its predecessors. “The unfortunate reality is that the combination of uncapped work rights and the Covid recovery visa encouraged far too many non-genuine students to choose Australia over other countries,” said chief executive Phil Honeywood.

“We saw some incredibly bad habits develop such as…crazy commissions being paid to poach students from quality providers into dodgy VET providers. Given some of those variables there was never going to be a package that international education stakeholders would be entirely comfortable with.”

Mr Honeywood said public universities and their English language colleges would “gain a market advantage” from the reforms. He said stand-alone English language colleges would be disadvantaged by the changes, along with some reputable private colleges whose risk ratings had been tarnished by losing “too many transferring students”.

Australian National University policy analyst Andrew Norton said he was generally in favour of the reforms, which would reduce the number of temporary residents cycling through different types of short-term visas. “This is a better, fairer system for the students themselves and it gives better results for Australia overall,” he said.

Professor Norton said reforms to the points test used to select skilled migrants would prove crucial in determining foreign students’ chances of obtaining permanent residency. “The big thing we don’t know yet is exactly what the new points-tested visa system will look like, and whether…a significant number of international students will be able to tick the boxes.”

He said that for overseas graduates with skilled jobs, the likelihood of gaining residency would probably improve. “My reading…is that if you’re relatively young and have a good career start, the prospects will be reasonably good.”

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Reader's comments (4)

A fairer and more efficient system to identify genuine students should focus on short-term visas for not more than 6 – 12 months to be given to international students. Extension or temporary residency should only be granted if the student proves to be genuine by demonstrating academic progress or any other criteria, such as a good attendance record. A similar system is used in Germany, where international students are given only a 3-month entry visa, and temporary residency is granted upon producing evidence for engagement with their studies. The proposed change may be streamlined through enhanced Provider Registration and International Student Management System (PRISMS) automation. This approach ensures efficiency and also acts as a deterrent, eliminating non-genuine students. It further aligns with Australia's commitment to maintaining a robust and secure genuine international education environment.
It is funny how Adil Abbas (an immigrant) adopts a more conservative stance regarding international students in his discussions. It's disheartening to see immigrants in high-income countries, once settled, advocating to limit opportunities for other immigrants. The argument about Germany is incorrect. Graduates in Germany receive an 18-month job search visa without restrictions on career changes or pursuing another master's degree after this period. This situation highlights the perceived lack of value in Australian education. If graduates in Australia struggle to find employment, it raises questions. Is it due to racial biases in hiring, or doubts about the skills of graduates from local universities? Where does the responsibility lie? Contrastingly, the government seems more inclined to grant permanent residency to offshore candidates than to support those educated domestically, like international students. Business leaders express a need for data scientists, and the government is willing to recruit from abroad, even from lesser-known universities, while overlooking graduates from prestigious local universities. This scenario poses a question: who is really being unrealistic here? Certainly, this will impact enrolments adversely, good luck to Australian Universities. And, also a funny thing how they imposed an age limit on job search visas even for PhD students. I mean seriously? LOL
From when will this law apply?
Regrettably, gurgill1691, who opted not to use a real name, seems to have misconstrued the essence of my commentary. His initial comments included a personal attack, expressing dismay at immigrants in wealthy countries advocating to restrict opportunities for other immigrants. Contrary to this perception, my stance does not limit opportunities for genuine international students. Throughout my career, I have taken pride in supporting and facilitating real opportunities for international students who have completed their courses successfully and become accomplished professionals in Australia. The crux of my commentary centres on non-genuine students who exploit the system, arriving in the country and neglecting their academic responsibilities by transitioning between different courses and institutions. These individuals may potentially overshadow more deserving candidates rejected by the subjective current Genuine Temporary Entrant (GTE) system. I possess evidence highlighting instances where visa applicants with superior English proficiency and academic credentials were denied study visas while those with inferior credentials were granted the same. The essence of my commentary revolves around advocating for a more efficient and equitable system, as reflected in the opening statement, "A fairer and more efficient system to identify genuine students." Another point misunderstood by gurgill1691 pertains to my discussion on study visa arrangements for international students, specifically in Australia. My commentary did not discuss the post-study or post-graduation visa details for Australia or Germany. My focus was solely on the study visa, the Subclass 500 Student Visa in Australia, drawing a comparison with Germany. The information cited in my commentary is accurate, valid and true. Prospective students intending to study in Germany apply for a study visa valid for three months, during which they enrol in their chosen courses and subsequently apply for municipal registration and a residence permit. I share gurgill1691's concerns regarding international graduates struggling to secure employment in their fields of study. The government's approach to international education and migration lacks a long-term vision or strategy, often characterized by ad hoc policies formulated under pressure. A case in point is the decision to reverse the extension of post-study work rights for international graduates in specific skill-shortage areas, a decision that only recently took effect last July.