Foreign graduates struggle to find professional jobs in Australia

Most international students who stay in Australia after they graduate cannot find jobs in their fields

March 19, 2018
Businessman holding contract of employment

Barely one-third of international students who stay in Australia after they graduate can find jobs in the fields for which they have trained, a new report suggests.

An analysis of recent census data has found that just 28 per cent of foreign-born degree holders who arrived in Australia after 2010 are working as professionals, with another 6 per cent employed as managers.

Thirty-four per cent are in lower-level jobs, with another 31 per cent unemployed or not looking for work.

These figures contrast sharply with the experience of Australian-born graduates, of whom 58 per cent work as professionals and another 10 per cent as managers. Just 22 per cent are in lower-level jobs, with 9 per cent out of work.

The statistics are contained in a report by former Monash University demographer Bob Birrell, a long-time critic of Australia’s skilled migration programme. He estimated that between 30 and 40 per cent of the foreign degree holders were international students who had graduated in Australia.

The figures suggested that most international graduates making use of Australia’s work rights entitlements, hoping to entrench their skills and enrich their CVs, were ending up disappointed. “They’re having a really hard time getting professional employment, for obvious reasons,” said Dr Birrell, who now heads the independent Australian Population Research Institute.

“There’s so many trying to enter those labour markets that they invariably go to the back of the queue because of lack of English skills and relevant experience.”

He said the government had protected Australia’s international education industry by offering graduate work rights comparable with those of Canada, particularly in disciplines favoured by international students like accountancy, engineering and information technology.

But recent Department of Employment reports showed that there was little shortage of locals skilled in these disciplines because of a surge in domestic graduates under Australia’s uncapped higher education system.

However, the Migration Institute of Australia said permanent residence was still a “great motivator” for many overseas students. National president Kevin Lane said people from some countries were attracted by Australia’s “better lifestyle”, even if it meant abandoning their chosen careers.

“They can have a great deal of trouble getting jobs,” he said. “It’s not necessarily that their English is poor – it could be that some employers don’t feel comfortable with their accents.”

Dr Birrell’s report is entitled Australia’s skilled migration programme: scarce skills not required. It contends that skilled migration in Australia is driven by businesses and bureaucracies that want population growth, and that the supposed purpose – furnishing Australia with skills it lacks – has no substance.

The report argues that any substance was “eliminated” by 2016 policy changes which switched the emphasis from occupations currently facing shortages to those that “might” encounter them in the next two to 10 years.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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