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Australia announces major extension of post-study work rights

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Students graduating with degrees linked to workforce shortages will be able to work for far longer in the Australian economy than they have been until now
  • The government has not yet specified which degrees will be selected for work-rights extensions – this announcement is expected in late-October once a working advisory group has submitted its advice
  • In a related development, a new budget allocation of AUS$36 million will be directed at improving visa processing for international students and reducing delays in visa decisions
  • The news will heighten Australia’s competitiveness relative to the other major English-speaking destinations of Canada, the UK, and US
  • Australia’s international sector has been slower to recover from the pandemic’s impact given a border closure that stretched from the onset of the crisis to the end of 2021

There is big news from Australia this week that could dramatically boost the country’s competitiveness as a study abroad destination. The government has announced that post-study work rights for international students have been greatly extended for holders of certain degrees linked to skills shortages in the Australian economy.

Two additional years

  • Select bachelor’s degrees will provide international students with a four-year post-study work permission – up from the current limit of two years.
  • Select master’s degrees will now afford students up to five years of work experience after graduation – up from the current limit of three years.
  • And graduates of select PhD degrees will be able to work for up to six years – up from the current limit of four years.

The extensions should help Australia to increase the stay rate of the international students the country’s economy needs the most. Minister for Education Jason Clare points out that “At the moment, only 16% of international students stay on after their studies end.” He says the longer work permits “will mean they can stay on longer and use the skills they’ve gained in Australia to help fill some of the chronic skills shortages we have right now.”

A working group is being formed to advise the Department of Home Affairs on which degrees will lead to the longer work permits. This group will include representatives from the Council of International Education, the National Tertiary Education Union, Universities Australia, and the Departments of Home Affairs and Education, and their input is due by 28 October 2022.

Universities sector embraces the news

Universities Australia’s CEO Catriona Jackson welcomed the government’s news, saying that “extending post-study work rights sends the right signal to international students who want to use their Australian education in Australia’s regions and cities, when and where there is a clear need for their skills.”

Miss Jackson pointed out the potential impact that the upcoming policy will have:

“Allowing more international students to remain in Australia could see thousands more nurses and doctors working in hospitals from Geelong to Geraldton and Cooma to Cairns. That is not to mention the skills gaps international students will plug across our engineering, information technology, and teaching sectors.”

Career services will be important

The government’s direct linking of study programmes to skills shortages suggests that career services – as well as educator-employer collaboration – will be important to ensuring that students graduate with job-ready skills. Skills shortages are particularly acute in Australia’s healthcare system, for example, and international graduates who can hit the ground running will be key to the recovery of this key public service sector. The urgency of the pressures facing the healthcare system was made clear in an announcement this month by Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews who said that “thousands of students in Victoria will be able to study for free to become a nurse or a midwife in the state.”

More money for international education

The government also announced that it will funnel AUS$36.1 million into visa processing “to support 500 surge staff over the next nine months.” The idea is to reduce the amount of time students must wait for visa processing and decisions. Delays in this area have dismayed many international students over the past few months and some students have switched their study destination as a result.

Visa processing delays are not unique to Australia: the issue has been problematic in Canada, the US, and UK as well. Anecdotal reports indicate that some students research visa processing times when deciding where they will choose to study, and agents have noted that visa processing has been a major challenge for students over the course of the pandemic.

Caps ahead for work hours while studying

Earlier this year, the government removed caps on the number of hours international students could work in any sector of the Australian economy while studying. This policy has been under review – amid some concern about whether students could maintain a healthy balance between studying and working. Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has announced in June 2023, limits will be reintroduced on the number of hours that international students can work while studying. work hours for international students will be capped again in June next year following feedback from stakeholders.

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