International graduates fare poorly in employment stakes

International graduates in Australia have more difficulties finding full-time jobs than their domestic counterparts, earn markedly less when they do, and are less likely to work in a job commensurate with their qualification, a new report drawn from the latest Graduate Outcomes Survey suggests.

On average, international undergraduate students who go on to graduate in Australia and find work on full-time salaries earn nearly AU$10,700 (US$7,600) a year less than domestic graduates – while the gap is much larger at AU$34,900 for postgraduate coursework graduates, and is AU$8,100 for postgraduate research graduates.

At the same time the employment rate for international graduates with an undergraduate degree is 26% lower than for domestic peers, while it is 41% lower for postgraduates with a coursework degree compared to domestic peers. The gap was narrower at postgraduate research level at 8.3 percentage points.

The Graduate Outcomes Survey is an annual survey conducted on behalf of the Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment by the Social Research Centre as part of the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) programme. In 2021, the Graduate Outcomes Survey gathered over 35,000 responses from international graduates, with a response rate of 33.6%.

Non English-speakers

According to a QILT-Social Research Centre media release, the researchers found that the lower full-time employment rate also applied to domestic graduates whose home language was not English, although to a lesser extent.

Undergraduates whose home language was not English were less likely to be employed full time than those whose home language was English. The gap for postgraduate coursework graduates was 19.2 percentage points and for postgraduate research graduates 16.3.

The media release said the study found that a gap in salaries for domestic and international undergraduates whose home language was not English was also evident but much less so than for international undergraduates.

Higher employment rates overseas

International graduates at all levels who now work overseas had higher full-time employment rates than international graduates who remained in Australia: those who completed a postgraduate coursework degree recorded a difference of around 20 percentage points (41.4% in Australia and 62% overseas), although there are variations related to the country in which the graduate was located – “probably due to local labour market factors in their location”, the researchers say.

But these graduates are also more likely to be under-employed, working part-time and seeking more hours; or unemployed and seeking full-time or part-time work, the report of the study says.

The researchers also found that international graduates were more likely to be enrolled in further full-time study, although this had little impact on their full-time employment rates.

“In 2021, 33.7% of international undergraduates were enrolled in further full-time study, compared with 21.1% of domestic undergraduates,” the researchers say.

“It may be that graduates who are enrolled in further full-time study are more likely to be working in jobs that are not related to their ultimate career destination because they have not yet completed their studies.

“But if we exclude those who are studying full-time, this only increases the full-time employment rate for international undergraduates to 45.8% – a change of 2.8 percentage points, which is still low and well below the rate for domestic undergraduates.”

‘Overqualified’ workers

The report adds that international graduates are more likely to be working in jobs for which they are ‘overqualified’: among those working full time, 31% reported that their job did not fully utilise their skills or education – compared with 29% of domestic undergraduates.

“So international graduates are less likely than domestic [graduates] to be working in a job commensurate with their educational level, [while] the story for international postgraduate coursework graduates is worse: 43% of those employed full time were working in a job that was not utilising their skills and knowledge, compared with 28% of domestic graduates.

But the researchers found the reverse was true for postgraduate research graduates where only 18.1% report they are ‘overqualified’ compared with 26.9% for domestic graduates.

“The most common reason undergraduate and postgraduate coursework graduates had for working in an area that does not fully utilise their skills and knowledge was that they do not have permanent residency,” the report of the study says.

* A full suite of the Graduate Outcomes Survey reports, as well as interactive results and tables, is available on the QILT website.