The Morrison government has made major changes to the temporary graduate visa (Subclass 485) to ensure Australia remains a priority destination for international students during and beyond the pandemic.
In a major incentive for international students, the Australian government last month announced the relaxing of eligibility requirements for the sought-after post-study work visa.
Under the new measure, the online study undertaken by both current and new students, as a result of COVID-19 travel restrictions, will be counted towards the Australian study requirement.
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This means student visa holders who have been forced to study remotely from their home countries will be eligible to apply for the Temporary Graduate visa while remaining outside the country.
The policy change brings Australia in line with its global competitors Canada and UK, who also launched similar incentives to retain and entice overseas students in March and June respectively.
‘Australia should have introduced the measure a lot sooner’
According to a survey conducted by Deakin University last year, post-study work visa that allows international graduates to stay and work in the country temporarily emerged as a key factor that draws overseas students to Australia.
While the overall rate of the importance of access to this program was 76% among the participants, the survey found that Indian students were most affected by the availability of post-study work rights.
At least 82% of Indian students who participated in the study considered the post-study work visa a driving factor behind their decision to choose Australia, compared to the average rate of 74% for other overseas students.
Ravi Lochan Singh, the president of the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India (AAERI) says the significance of the changes to visa eligibility for the recovery of the international education sector cannot be underestimated.
“We welcome the announcements as it brings the regulations in line with Canada and UK,” he says.
Mr Singh, however, says that the changes should have been brought in a lot sooner.
“Unlike these countries, the Australian intake was in July and thus the announcement was a bit late for students considering commencing studies during the current time,” he says.
Is Australia losing its international students to the UK and Canada?
Modelling released by Universities Australia suggests the international education sector stands to lose approximately $16 billion in revenue over the next four years due to the pandemic and the subsequent clamping of international borders - which has blocked 20% of the country’s international students from entering the country, at least 6,600 of whom are stranded in India.
Navjot Singh, a migration agent based in the northern Indian state of Punjab says policymakers in Australia need to do a lot more than just granting post-study work visa rights to retain its current students.
“Australia’s recent measures have brought it at par with Canada and UK, but the biggest difference in terms of present circumstances is that unlike Australia, UK borders remain open and Canada is also permitting select students under limited conditions - an option that so far isn’t available to Australian students,” he says.
'Australia is a safer destination'
But the International Education Association of Australia chief executive Phil Honeywood argues that while other countries have competitive advantages, Australia has fared better in terms of containing the virus, despite the recent outbreaks in Victoria.
“I would like to argue that Australia seems to have contained the virus when you see it in terms of a number of deaths and the number of cases, even with the recent Victorian outbreak. So that should put the message globally that Australia is a safe study destination as compared to many other countries like the UK, US or Canada,” he says.
Mr Honeywood adds that these arguments will hold ground only if the Australian government allows jurisdictions to bring back international students as per the initial plans.
“We have to make sure that we get the secure corridor pilot programs up and running very soon which, initially will be launched in Australian Capital Territory and South Australia and maybe Northern Territory for returning international students.
“We are hoping existing students will be allowed to return in the next two or three months and new students by January-February next year,” he adds.
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