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Australian permanent residency tougher for international students: report

One in five workers in Australia currently hold either a temporary or permanent visa. Source: Getty Images/Mayur Kakade

A new report by the Grattan Institute says that someone who arrived in Australia on a student visa less than five years ago is most likely to still be on a student visa.

The report, named 'Migrants in the Australian workforce', said that about one in five international students, and half of all skilled temporary visa-holders, have historically transitioned to permanent visas.

However, the report found that while the number of international students on temporary visas has grown significantly in the past decade, the number of permanent visas has not.


  • Temporary migrants make up seven per cent of the Australian workforce
  • Grattan Institute report says migrants who stay in Australia are more likely to work full-time compared to the Australian population
  • Despite greater levels of education and experience, recent migrants earn less today than they did a decade ago

According to the report, a lower share of temporary skilled workers has been transitioning to permanent visas in recent years, and this is likely driven by the fact that fewer temporary skilled workers have been eligible for permanent residency than in the past.

Skilled migrants in particular tend to be younger, higher-skilled, and earn higher incomes than the typical Australian.
Getty Images/Leo Patrizi

The report, a guidebook for policymakers, said that from 1996 to 2017 there was an implicit pathway to permanent residency for almost all people on a temporary skilled visa.

While about half of all temporary skilled visa-holders transition to a permanent visa historically, many occupations have a much more restricted pathway today and fewer will transition to permanent residency in the future.

Responding to SBS Hindi's query on visa transitions, Grattan Institute Deputy Program Director for Migration Henry Sherrell said that prior to the border closures, there were more international students in Australia than ever before yet there was a declining number of permanent skilled visas available.

"This suggests it was more difficult to gain a permanent visa for international students than it was in the past," he said, explaining that this trend could be seen in the decade leading up to the border closures.

The report further stated that "86 per cent of employer-nominated visas were granted to people already in Australia, as were 90 per cent of ‘Skilled Independent’ permanent visas".

However, the business investment visa goes against this trend, with 89 per cent allocated to people outside of Australia at the time of application.

The report said that of migrants who arrived between five and ten years ago, and who remain in Australia, about a quarter have transitioned to permanent residency, moving into the skilled independent, state-nominated or family visa categories.

International students comprised the largest group of temporary migrants before the pandemic.

One in three workers in Australia were born overseas, and one in five holds either a temporary or permanent visa, the report said.

Temporary migrants make up seven per cent of the Australian workforce and some temporary visa-holders, including working holidaymakers and many international students, tend to work in less-skilled jobs earning low wages.

Migrants are also increasingly likely to be highly educated, the report pointed out.

"About half of the migrants have a bachelor's or postgraduate education when they arrive, and many more gain university-level qualifications during their time in Australia. A quarter of recent migrants have a postgraduate qualification, compared to less than one in ten workers born in Australia," it noted.

However, despite higher levels of education and experience, recent migrants earn less today than they did a decade ago.

"This trend has been driven by higher rates of international students and lower wages for full-time working recent arrivals. Established recent migrants tend to earn about the same as workers born in Australia, and these incomes have grown steadily in real terms," the report said.

For Melbourne-based RMIT student, Mishween Kaur, the findings of the report are worrisome.

Ms Mishween Kaur is currently on students visa in Australia and is based in Melbourne.

"I have to figure out my future as to how to increase my chances for permanent residency. I know currently so many people are waiting for their residency," Ms Kaur, who is studying a Bachelor of Business (Logistics and Supply Chain), said.

Ms Kaur, who arrived in Melbourne two years ago and has been working at a McDonald's outlet, shares that it would be hard to get residency in her professional stream as it has only one role mentioned under the Skilled Occupation List (SOL).

"I also need five years of managerial experience to get the PR which is again very difficult," she explained.

As of now, she plans to expand her areas of work which would help her PR application.

The report's authors said it seeks to fill the "knowledge gap" about the role migrants play in Australia's job market "so policymakers can reform the system to supercharge the economic benefits of migration to Australians."

It maps what visas migrants hold, what skills they have, where they work and what they earn.

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