Two years ‘too short’ for post-study work visas

Australian study also finds that dodgy agents are exploiting a migration advice ‘loophole’

September 23, 2019
A map with international students around it
Source: iStock

Post-graduation employment rights are too fleeting to give international graduates a strong boost in the job market, Australian researchers have discovered, in a finding that could cast a cloud over the UK’s move to reintroduce post-study work visas.

A study by Deakin University researchers has concluded that Australia’s two-year work visas are “too short” to give employers the confidence to hire foreigners. The report says that domestic graduates can take three years to find jobs in their fields of study, and three to four years is a more realistic time frame for foreigners.

The findings highlight a “critical need” for extensions to work rights “to reassure [employers] that international graduates can…make longer-term contributions to the company”, argues the study.

Lead researcher Ly Tran, an associate professor in Deakin’s School of Education, said that the study raised questions over the likely effectiveness of the UK’s two-year visa. “Clearly, the longer students stay, the better the employment outcome,” she said.

“If the visa were longer – let’s say three years – it would give employers more confidence.” She said letters from satisfied employers should be enough to trigger visa extensions, sparing bosses and graduates the hassle of “going through complex paperwork”.

The study analysed a number of datasets on the 90,000-odd temporary graduate or “subclass 485” visa holders in Australia, who collectively comprise almost 1 per cent of the country’s labour force. The research team surveyed about 1,150 of them and interviewed 50 current and former visa holders, employers, university staff, agents and government and industry representatives.

Preliminary results, released in July, highlighted employers’ concerns with 485 visas. The final report says that post-study work visas have succeeded as a student recruitment incentive, particularly for master’s candidates.

Some 81,000 international students began master’s courses in 2018 – more than double the 38,000 commencements in 2013, when the 485 visa arrangements were revised. Australia now has the highest concentration of international master’s students in the world, according to a recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report, with foreigners comprising 48 per cent of master’s enrolments.

But the research team found that just 36 per cent of 485 visa holders were able to find full-time jobs in their fields of study.

This proportion rose to 52 per cent once they had been in Australia for four years. While the visas are valid for two years, and up to four years for people with higher research degrees, many graduates stay on by switching to other types of visas.

The study found that graduates who had obtained other visas typically earned 22 per cent more than their peers on 485 visas, while international graduates who had returned home proved 36 per cent more likely to have full-time jobs in their fields of study.

The report also criticises a legislative “loophole” that bans universities from advising graduates on migration matters. Unethical migration agents exploit this prohibition by exaggerating the difficulty of obtaining 485 visas – a “relatively simple” process, the report says – and charging lavishly for applications.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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