In Episode 4 we check in on two international graduates of regional Australian universities at opposite ends of the country. Since the shutdown, both our graduates, Daniel from Peru and Sharavati from India, have lost their paid jobs and are struggling in this climate to gain any employment. They are part of a vulnerable group of people who are stuck in the middle without support from any source.
As non-Australians they are not eligible for Federal government assistance such as the Job Keeper program and as they are no longer students, they are not eligible for the State government and university support packages on offer to international students. Instead, they report being on their own, relying on limited parental support, declining savings and the kindness of others.
The post study work rights visa scheme is essential to our international higher education sector. Since its revamp in 2013, it has been key to the success of the sector and the scheme is mirrored by our competitor countries, making it an essential part of our international higher education offerings. It is particularly important for Australia’s regional areas where these students are incentivised with a longer post-study work visa after graduating from a regional campus and staying on in an area defined as regional.
Our students – Daniel and Sharavati – are productive and committed members of their regional Australian communities. They feel strongly about where they have studied and lived and continue to contribute to their town, even under these difficult circumstances. Despite losing his job and his volunteering opportunity in regional Queensland, Daniel continues to volunteer for a local men’s mental health organisation, runs the Spanish hour on the local radio station and through his involvement with the local Latin American Association has been involved with handing out food hampers to international students. He loves his town, his community and his region, and despite reporting increased anti-migrant sentiment, he is keen to stay on as long as he possibly can.
Sharavati has been closely involved with promoting her regional Victorian town and the regional student experience via her volunteer position as an International Student Ambassador for the area. After only graduating in February, her entire post-study work experience to date has been during the COVID shut down. She continues to write blog posts and take photographs to promote the region for future students and tourists.
These students are skilled, educated and love regional Australia. They have been facilitated to come to Australia via the education sector and via the government’s visa program. Yet now, during COVID, they are the forgotten cohort.
It is imperative that this group is not left wavering in the middle. It is essential that they see real support and continue to be welcomed in the communities that they live in.
Raising the profile of Australia’s post study work rights visa regime will be essential in building a globally competitive recovery approach. Our two key competitor nations – Canada and the UK – have ensured that their post study work programs have been flexible and responsive during the coronavirus crisis and are setting up their recovery efforts to place this scheme at the front and centre. In April, the Canadian government announced new regulations that would allow international students to increase the amount of online learning they could undertake and still be eligible for the post study work permit. The UK’s Russell Group has been urging the government to fast track their new two year post study work visa and extend it by six months. Both our key competitors are looking to post-study work as essential to maintaining a competitive edge in the market.
Meanwhile, in Australia, the Department of Home Affairs is refusing to guarantee that the time foreign students spend devoting to online study will be credited towards the 92 weeks of learning that they must complete to qualify for the post study work rights. Instead, it will consider requests for leniency on a ‘case by case basis’.
While our international graduates are struggling without government and institutional support at this time, signalling support via policy flexibility and responsiveness will be a essential for our prospective students as they begin to make their study decisions in the coming months.
As Ly Tran and Huyen Bui recently wrote “it is both an ethical duty and good business strategy” for host countries to ensure that we are responding to, and not forgetting this vital group of international alumni.