The other temporary skilled visa

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The other temporary skilled visa

Posted 21/03/2013 by Leonie Doyle

While the Temporary Work (Skilled) (subclass 457) visa has undergone heavy scrutiny of late, another temporary skilled visa has been expanding more rapidly, and is about to become even more attractive.

The Temporary Skilled Graduate visa (subclass 485) is for overseas students who have completed a qualification at an Australian higher education institution. The visa was introduced in 2008 to enable graduates to remain in Australia for up to 18 months after completing their course, to gain work experience or improve their English language skills. An applicant had to meet the Australian standard for an occupation on the Skilled Occupation List.

Remarkable growth

The Temporary Skilled Graduate visa recorded rapid growth between 2008 and 2012 (see chart below). At the end of 2012 there were 38,210 holders of this visa—a 74 per cent increase on the previous year (21,910). This is more than double the 2009 number and 15 times as many as in 2008.

Bar graph showing temporary skilled graduate visa holders, 2008-2012
By nationality
Asian students represent the bulk of the market for Temporary Skilled Graduate visas. 
The top five home nations of 485 visa holders in December 2012 were India (15,550 visa holders), China (5,450), Nepal (2,980), Sri Lanka (1,320) and Malaysia (1,210). Temporary Skilled Graduate visa holders from India more than tripled between 2009 and 2012.
Chinese students in Australia significantly outnumber Indian students (at the end of 2012 there were 53,361 student visa holders from China and only 29,536 from India). The Temporary Skilled Graduate visa tells a different story—visa holders from India outnumber those from China by almost 3:1. It appears that post study work rights are more popular with graduates from India than graduates from China.
What’s changing?
A strategic review of the student visa program in 2011 (‘the Knight review’) recommended that the Temporary Skilled Graduate visa rules be eased to bring Australia more into line with other countries competing for overseas talent. This is known as ‘post study work rights’.
The Knight review considered that ‘the absence of a clearly defined post study work rights entitlement puts Australian universities at a very serious disadvantage compared to some of our major competitor countries.’ Post study work rights lend a competitive advantage to Australia’s education export industry, since overseas students will choose study destinations that offer favourable visa arrangements. 
The Government accepted this view. As of 23 March 2013 a new stream within the 485 visa will allow certain international students to remain in Australia for up to four years, rather than 18 months: 
  • Bachelor degree or coursework Masters graduates may remain in Australia for up to two years,
  • Masters by research degree graduates may stay on for up to three years, and
  • Doctoral degree (PhD) graduates may stay on for up to four years. 
In addition, these visa holders may work or study in any field, for any employer. Applicants will not be required to nominate an occupation on the Skilled Occupations List or undertake a skills assessment.
For students who do not meet the eligibility requirements for this new stream, the existing 485 visa arrangements will remain available.
For—and against
The Knight review was strongly in favour of expanding post study work rights, emphasising the significant benefits to Australian universities and Australian employers. It acknowledged the possibility that overseas-born graduates may only find work in low-level jobs unrelated to their studies, but noted that in many cases wages and other benefits would compare favourably against those in the graduate’s home country.
Overseas students have invested significantly in securing an Australian qualification and in many cases have paid full fees to do so. Post study work rights are one way to reward that effort.
However, matching the controversy surrounding 457 visas, some commentators have expressed concern that graduates on 485 visas will ‘snatch jobs from local graduates’. (The Government has recently acted to tighten the rules around 457 visas to ensure workers are employed in the right jobs and are receiving market salary rates.) Unlike the 457 visa, 485 visa holders are not linked to a particular employer and may work in any job.
To sum up
The Temporary Skilled Graduate visa allows overseas students who have earned an Australian qualification to stay here for a period of time (2, 3 or 4 years depending on their qualification level) after completion of their studies. 
The extremely rapid growth of 485 visa numbers over the past few years provides clues about the aspirations of overseas students: an increasing number want to extend their stay in Australia post-graduation.
In 2013, changes to the visa are likely to provide a boost to Australian universities competing for overseas talent, and encourage overseas students to stay here longer and in greater numbers. The ongoing effect on the job market for recent graduates—both domestic and international—will be worth monitoring. 

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