More international students than ever are remaining in Australia for up to four years on graduate work visas following their studies.
The explosion has prompted concern from Labor, but the Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University (ANU) has argued they are not displacing other workers.
In March 50,000 international graduates were in Australia on the 485 visa — an increase of more than 16,000 in just 12 months.
Labor’s immigration spokesman, Shayne Neumann, said international students are an important contributor to the economy, but rapid growth in a visa subclass could be cause for concern.
“It’s incumbent on the Turnbull Government to ensure the integrity of Australia’s migration program,” he said.
Last year 350,000 international students were enrolled in universities — an increase of 100,000 in the preceding three years.
The lag between a student’s enrolment and graduation, and the grant of subclass 485 visas, means the number of international graduates working in Australia is set to rise even further in coming years.
International students are allowed to work for 20 hours per week during semester under their visa, but no time or occupation restrictions apply to the “post-study” graduate visa stream.
This provides a visa of two years following study — or up to four years for some higher qualifications — to those who complete degrees of at least two years.
The visa may assist some towards a pathway to permanent residency, but the majority of international students return to their home countries.
‘Very high value people’
ANU Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brian Schmidt told that the visa provides “flexibility” and “financial incentives” to students.
“But it also means the graduates we have here, who are incredibly well trained, have the opportunity to contribute to the Australian economy,” he said.
A 2015 report from the Productivity Commission stated “there is little doubt that immigration has boosted the supply of youth labour” and “continued monitoring of the impact of immigration on youth and graduate labour markets is warranted”.
Since this report was released, the number of temporary graduate visa holders in Australia has more than doubled.
Tweaks to the visa in 2013 gave longer and less restrictive post-study work rights to university graduates than those in vocational training.
According to the 2016 i-graduate International Student Satisfaction Survey, the opportunity to work in Australia following study was more important to students than the opportunity for part-time work during study.
This survey, partly funded by the Department of Education and Training, found the following factors were most important to students coming to Australia:
reputation of the qualification,
reputation of the institution, and the
reputation of the education.
Teacher reputation, opportunities for further study and social life were factors ranked immediately above the opportunity to work in Australia following studies.