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International Student Visa Reform

Justin Pen on letting International students stay in Australia after they graduate.

Justin Pen on letting International students stay in Australia after they graduate.

Shiran Illanperuma, a recent University of Sydney graduate, came to Australia in 2010 from the United Arab Emirates. He finished his studies in Media and Communications last year, and returned to the UAE when his student visa expired. While at USyd, he helped found the Autonomous Collective Against Racism and served as one of the collective’s four inaugural Office-Bearers. Back at home, he’s found steady, albeit trying, work as a reporter and a junior editor for a health and science journal.

“Work back home is a little soul crushing, especially after being acclimated to Australian work environments and hours,” he told Honi.

“Working hours in Dubai are long and overtime is not paid.”

A proposal paper released in December 2014, by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, revealed the number of international students remaining in Australia after the completion of their studies could potentially increase tenfold over the next four years—from 21,970 in 2014 to upwards of 200,000 in 2018.

The spike is attributable to changes to the Temporary Graduate visa (subclass 485), which were made following an evaluation of the student visa program commissioned by the Gillard government in 2011.

Prior to the visa reforms, international students had to obtain sponsorship from a local employer to remain in Australia that fit within the designated Skilled Occupation List, a register of professions with a shortage of workers.

Under the changes, international students are now allowed to work and travel in Australia for at least two years after they finish their studies in Australia. The new rules apply to any international student who applied for, and received, a student visa after 5 November 2011, a grace period that Shiran missed by a year.

“Given the opportunity I probably would have liked to stay,” he said.

The provision of extended stay entitlements, which would allow international students to pursue work experience in Australia and supplement their academic studies, was consistent with most “competitor countries”, the 2011 review found.

Indeed, a key aim of the visa changes was ensuring that Australian universities remained attractive to international students. The reforms were vital to “the ongoing viability of our universities in an increasingly global market for students,” the report found.

The visa reforms are likely to benefit international students, at least after they graduate.

Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) International Students Solicitor Nicholas Ngai said graduates on 485 visas would “absolutely” be better off than those currently studying.

International students, who are currently enrolled in a higher education course, are subject to a number of work restrictions based on their visa. Temporary Graduates, on the other hand, are not as encumbered.

“485s are in a better position,” Ngai said. “They can work full-time. That’s a big difference from a student who’s restricted to 40 hours per fortnight.”

However, as immigration affairs and policy blogger Henry Sherrell observed, “the timing [of these changes] couldn’t be worse”.

“Unemployment is slowly increasing and the number of recent university graduates is climbing rapidly due to the expansion of the sector under the [Gillard] government,” he said in a blog post.

It was incumbent for higher education providers, regulators and lawmakers to ensure temporary graduates were supported over the coming boom years, he said.

International Students are also concerned that the reform does little to help those currently studying. Work and career opportunities offered by the University are seriously lacking, according to USyd Students’ Representative Council (SRC) International Students Office-Bearer Leah June Lee.

“Sometimes we can’t even find a part-time job, let alone a proper job,” she said.



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