Universities sector welcomes post-study work rights changes

The Australian government’s decision to increase post-study work rights for international students has been welcomed by the peak body of the university sector as “a much-needed measure” to address Australia’s critical skills shortage and grow its economy.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said the announcement, made at the Jobs and Skills Summit on 2 September, reinforced the importance of universities to delivering the skilled workforce Australia depends on.

In a joint statement, Minister of Education Jason Clare and Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil announced on Friday that post-study work rights for select degrees in areas of verified skill shortages will be increased: from two years to four years for select bachelor degrees; from three years to five years for select masters degrees; and from four years to six years for select PhDs.

A working group will be established to advise the ministers for home affairs and education on the development of this and other relevant issues. Members of the working group will include representatives from the Council for International Education, the National Tertiary Education Union, Universities Australia, the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Education.

The group will report to the ministers by 28 October 2022.

Visa processing support

International education will also benefit from the AU$36.1 million (US$24 million) the government will invest in visa processing to support 500 surge staff over the next nine months.

O’Neil also announced on Friday that work hours for international students will be capped again in June next year following feedback from stakeholders. The number of hours will be subject to consultation with a view to striking the right balance between work and study.

Clare said: “At the moment, only 16% of international students stay on after their studies end.

“This 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.”

O’Neil said: “International education is an important Australian industry that has been heavily impacted by the pandemic.

“The outcomes from the Jobs and Skills Summit are geared towards supporting international education and giving the students who earn degrees in Australia the chance to contribute to the productivity of our economy.”

Jackson congratulated the government for its “strong leadership and solutions-driven approach to delivering a more productive workforce”.

She said more than half of the one million jobs expected to be created in the next five years will require a university degree.

Yet while Australia’s world-class universities attract thousands of international students each year, less than one in seven stay on after their studies.

“Australia is worse off for this brain drain,” she said.

Pipeline of talent

“It’s critical that we develop the skills of Australian students to maintain a homegrown pipeline of talent. But at the same time, 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.”

She said 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.

“This is a practical measure that we called for in the lead up to the Jobs and Skills Summit.”

Universities Australia also welcomed the government’s funding commitment to fast-track visa processing, and the decision to lift the annual migration intake.

“A skilled labour market is a productive labour market, and a productive labour market drives economic growth and a higher standard of living for all Australians,” Jackson said.