In response to a petition, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has said the government has no intention to grant visa extensions to temporary graduate visa holders (Subclass 485) stranded outside Australia due to COVID-19 border restrictions.
Dashing hopes of hundreds of temporary graduate visa holders locked outside the country, the Australian government has declined their request for visa extensions or a second application.
Responding to a petition seeking visa extensions and permanent residency for temporary migrants, including skilled workers, graduates and international students, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke wrote that the government has “no intention to change current temporary graduate visa settings” at this time.
- Temporary graduate visa (Subclass 485) seek visa extensions
- No intention to change current temporary graduate visa settings: Immigration Minister
- There were 97,000 TGV holders in Australia as of 31 March 2020
As the name suggests, the visa subclass 485 is for international students who have completed two years of study in Australia. It can last between 18 months and four years, depending on the situation and allows successful applicants to live, work and study in Australia temporarily.
In September last year, the Federal government gave unprecedented visa concessions to graduates affected by COVID-19 travel restrictions, allowing them to apply for and be granted a Temporary Graduate visa (TGV) outside Australia in cases “where they have met all the requirements.”
But the concessions, though significant, did not have any bearing on the fate of the existing 485 visa holders stuck outside the country.
'We are clueless'
Indian-origin accountant Kiran Reddy, who had lodged the petition on behalf of hundreds of temporary graduates caught up in the border restrictions, said the response to the petition has left their future hanging in the balance.
“Honestly, at this point, I don’t know what else we can do. There is no indication or timeline regarding the reopening of international borders for temporary visa holders. We are completely clueless,” the 36-year-old said.
“If they don’t extend our visas, this could well mean that we are at a huge loss. We spent so much money on Australian university degrees, and now we are just sitting here while our visas are running out."
His isn’t the only petition that has been filed. There have been many, including one that closed in September 2020 and was signed by nearly 15,000 people to get visa extensions for the duration of time spent offshore.
Responding to this petition, Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs Jason Wood wrote that the purpose of the TGV is to provide international students who have spent significant time studying here with the opportunity to work, study and stay for a further period.
It is important to note that the TGV is a temporary visa and does not provide a pathway to skilled migration
He explained that the current focus of the government is on protecting the health of Australians, supporting jobs and businesses and maintaining the provision of essential goods and services while combating the pandemic.
'Australia risks losing international students'
There were nearly 97,000 TGV holders in Australia as at 31 March 2020 of which at least 31,000 were of Indian origin.
Madhur Bhalla, who is stuck in Ludhiana in the northern Indian state of Punjab ever since the borders were shut, rued that he has already wasted a year of his visa.
The engineering graduate, who had plans to secure a job in the area of study upon returning to Melbourne, said he is finding it hard to understand that the government is providing concessions to new TGV holders, but isn’t doing anything to protect the interests of those who currently hold this visa.
“If they can make policy changes for new TGV holders, why can’t they extend the same courtesy to existing visa holders who have graduated from Australian universities, and are also employed in various sectors,” the 25-year-old questioned.
He added that the lack of concessions for existing TGV holders is forcing many to consider migrating to countries like Canada or the UK, which are offering "better incentives" to international students and other temporary migrants.
“There are many TGV holders stuck in India who are considering moving to Canada or the UK, where despite the escalating COVID cases, the governments are safeguarding the interests of their students and recent graduates, while Australia isn’t,” he said.
“The Australian government must give us a chance to utilise this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gain professional experience in our area of study.”
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