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Post-study work for international graduates in Australia: opportunity to enhance employability, get a return on investment or secure migration?


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New abstract: In a competitive international education market, the opportunity to gain post-study work experience in the host country is one of the key drivers of international students’ decision making and critical to education export, especially in top destination countries, such as Australia, Canada, the UK and US. Understanding the impacts of post-study work for international graduates is crucial forboth host countries’ international student recruitment and employment agendas and their ethical commitment to delivering on promise to the international cohort. Drawing on analysis of government policies and in-depth interview data, this study provides evidence about the effects of the post-study work policy in Australia. The overarching view from international graduates indicates that the temporary graduate visa does not seem to provide them with a competitive advantage in the Australian labour market as employers either are unclear about this visa or hesitate to recruit those on this visa. However, the visa brings multiple side benefits, including the chance to round off theiremployability skills, improve their English proficiency, and get a return on investment in overseas study. Many international graduates see the post-study work visa as a pathway to permanent residency despite the fact that visa reforms have broken the education-migration nexus.
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Globalisation, Societies and Education
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Post-study work for international graduates in
Australia: opportunity to enhance employability,
get a return on investment or secure migration?
Ly Thi Tran , Mark Rahimi , George Tan , Xuan Thu Dang & Nhung Le
To cite this article: Ly Thi Tran , Mark Rahimi , George Tan , Xuan Thu Dang & Nhung Le (2020):
Post-study work for international graduates in Australia: opportunity to enhance employability,
get a return on investment or secure migration?, Globalisation, Societies and Education, DOI:
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Post-study work for international graduates in Australia:
opportunity to enhance employability, get a return on investment
or secure migration?
Ly Thi Tran
, Mark Rahimi
, George Tan
, Xuan Thu Dang
and Nhung Le
School of Education, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia;
Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University, Darwin,
Deakin University, Burwood, Australia;
Monash Business School, Clayton, Australia
In a competitive international education market, the opportunity to
gain post-study work experience in the host country is one of the key
drivers of international studentsdecision making and critical to
education export, especially in top destination countries, such as
Australia, Canada, the UK and US. Understanding the impacts of post-
study work for international graduates is crucial for both host
countriesinternational student recruitment and employment agendas
and their ethical commitment to delivering on promise to the
international cohort. Drawing on analysis of government policies and
in-depth interview data, this study provides evidence about the
eects of the post-study work policy in Australia. The overarching
view from international graduates indicates that the temporary
graduate visa does not seem to provide them with a competitive
advantage in the Australian labour market as employers either are
unclear about this visa or hesitate to recruit those on this visa.
However, the visa brings multiple side benets, including the chance
to round otheir employability skills, improve their English
prociency, and get a return on investment in overseas study. Many
international graduates see the post-study work visa as a pathway to
permanent residency despite the fact that visa reforms have broken
the direct education-migration pathway.
Received 13 November 2019
Accepted 26 June 2020
International education;
international graduates;
international students;
Australia; post-study work;
employability; migration
Australia has long been a destination for international students from a broad range of countries.
International education is Australias largest services export. In 2013, 25 percent of 1.3 million uni-
versity students enrolled in Australian universities were international students. The same year, 16
percent of the total Australian universitiesoperating revenue (AUD$26.3 billion) was generated
by full-fee paying international students (Universities Australia 2015). Statistics underscores the
pace of growth in the international education sector, which hosted around 759,000 international
enrolments in 2019 (AEI 2020), generating over AUD $40 billion for the national economy in
2019 (ABS 2020).
International students are the largest category of temporary migrants to Australia (Spinks 2010).
A retrospective, time-series analysis of trend data on international studentscommencements shows
that among the educational sectors, the higher education sector comprises the largest proportion in
most years (see Figure 1).
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Ly Thi Tran School of Education, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia
This article has been republished with minor change. This change do not impact the academic content of the article.
The higher education sector is an important part of the international education and migration
landscape in Australia for a number of reasons. Not only is it signicant in terms of revenue gener-
ation across the international education export sector, but also, it represents a source of future skilled
migrants that Australia has tapped on in the last couple of decades. With immigration reforms in
Australia removing the direct link between international education and permanent residency [PR]
(Spinks 2016), post-study work rights (PSWR) re-introduced in 2013 for university graduates,
play a key role in attracting international students to Australia.
Traditionally, the key selection criteria underpinning international studentsdecision about their
study destinations include institutional ranking and reputation, aordability, quality of education,
safety and employment outcomes (Gai, Xu, and Pelton 2016; McLeay, Lichy, and Asaad 2020;
Min and Falvey 2018). However, international students have evolving expectations and place
increased emphasis on post-study work experiences in the host labour markets and employability.
A recent survey with over 1,150 international graduates showed that up to 76% mentioned access
to post-study work rights was an important factor in their decision to choose Australia as their
study destination (Tran, Rahimi, and Tan 2019). This increased emphasis on post-study work rights
has been reected in data about international student commencements in Australia since 2013. The
main growth area of international student commencements for Australia since the introduction of
the revised PSWR policy in 2013 has been the Masters by coursework programme. The top ve citi-
zenship countries of PSWR visa holders (India, China, Nepal, Pakistan, Vietnam) have also been the
top ve source countries of international commencements in Masters by coursework (China, India,
Nepal, Pakistan, Vietnam) since 2013 (See Figures 2 and 3).
This study focuses on the eects of Australias post-study rights policy on international graduates.
Australias current post-study work policy is embraced in the introduction of the temporary graduate
visa subclass 485. This policy provides international graduates from Australian universities the
opportunity to stay in Australia after their studies for to two to four years and gain some professional
work experience. Considering the signicant role of the post-study work rights policy in attracting
international students, it is critical to have nuanced understandings about how this visa is perceived
by the students themselves, key stakeholders and the broader implications associated with its intro-
duction. Acquiring overseas work experience to complement their foreign credential has become a
Figure 1. International studentscommencements between 2002 and 2018 (compiled based on data from Australian Government
key goal for many international students (Gribble, Blackmore, and Rahimi 2015; Tran 2013,2017;
Tran and Soejatminah 2017). Hence, it is crucial for the Australian government and the international
education sector to deliver on its promise of post-study employment.
This article draws on the analysis of Australian government policy texts and secondary statistics
of international graduates on the post-study work visa and 50 interviews with temporary graduate
visa holders, university sta, employers and other related stakeholders. In-depth interviews with
international graduates elicited nuanced understandings on international studentsexpectations
and employment outcomes under the post-study work arrangement. The study found that the tem-
porary graduate visa (hereafter referred as 485 visa) did not provide a competitive advantage to inter-
national graduates on their employment outcomes in their respective eld of study. However, the 485
visa allows graduates to buy time to gain work experience, improve English, develop skills and
knowledge, strengthen professional and social networks, earn an income and pay otheir study
loans and prepare for permanent residency applications. The study indicates a critical need for
more concerted eorts across universities and key stakeholders to extend the career support to inter-
national graduates on the temporary work visa, who are a signicant and rapidly growing but often
overlooked cohort in the host country.
The convergence of international education and post-study work rights in leading
study destinations
International student mobility, which refers to the mobility of international students who cross bor-
ders to pursue an education outside their home countries, has increased signicantly in the last few
Figure 2. Top ve countries of masters by coursework commencements: 2007December 2018 (compiled based on data from
Australian Government 2019a).
Figure 3. Top ve countries of temporary graduate visa holders (compiled based on data from Australian Government 2019b).
decades from 2 million in 19995 million in 2016 (OECD 2018). Seeking an education abroad is
often driven by the production of distinctivenesson ones future career and employment prospects,
which are often related to the quality and reputation of education in particular countries (Tran 2016;
Tran and Nguyen 2016). However, the structuring of this distinctivenesscould also include immi-
gration policies that positively impact the future employment trajectories of international students
(Tan and Hugo 2017). This is partly due to the academic gates approached by governments seeking
to tap into international students as a source of highly skilled migrants (Riaño, Van Mol, and
Raghuram 2018; Suter and Jandl 2008; Tremblay 2005).
The education-migration nexus is well established in Australia (Hawthorne 2010a,2010b) and
other leading study destinations such as the US (Han et al. 2015). Such a nexus underscores the
fact that the ability to be able to live and work in their host countries after nishing their studies
is an important factor in the decision making process for many international students. While
there is considerable research describing what motivates students to undertake overseas study,
what they study, and how best to market to attract these students, their realised intentions and
their post-study experiences are less understood. Tang et al. (2014, 67) note a dearth in knowledge
on the decision making process and experience of international students transitioning from student
to work and other visas in their host country. Few studies have investigated the work of international
students after graduation in their host countries and in the eld of their study. This highlights the
need to keep in perspective the wider life aspirations of international students and understand
what happens to them after their studies (Tan and Hugo 2017).
PSWR has been seen as an eective strategy to attract international students (Tran, Rahimi, and
Tan 2019; Chew 2019; Trevena 2019) and there have been converging policies on PSWR in major
destination countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US. Table 1 sum-
marises the key features of current PSWR policies across ve study destinations. New Zealand and
Canada are ranked as most attractive as they oer the most progressive schemes with three year
PSWR for all international university graduates who complete their approved one-year or two
year courses. While Australia is the third in the attraction ranking, it is most generous with four
year PSWR for those graduating with a doctorate degree. In the US, the Optional Practical Training
(OPT) programme allows international students to stay and work in the US for one year post gradu-
ation, with the addition of up to two more years for STEM students. However, recent US migration
review has brought the OPT programme under closer scrutiny as it is considered by the adminis-
tration as a potential threat to USs local workers, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic
and the labour markets recovery (ICEF Monitor 2020). The growth in the OPT program has been
driven by the H-1B programme (Berquist et al. 2019) that allows foreigners to work in a specialty
occupation in the US for three years, which can be extended to six years. However, the presidential
proclamation issued on 22/06/2020 suspended the H-1B programme, citing the rising unemploy-
ment due to the pandemic (US government, 2020). The role of the PSWR in attracting international
students is illustrated with the UK governments recent announcement of the re-introduction of their
two year post-study work visa. This policy change is a response to the decline in international enrol-
ments and an estimated loss of GBP£1 billion in tuition revenue associated with the 2012 decision to
Table 1. Comparison of post-study work rights across ve key destination countries.
Attraction ranking Post-study work (years) Minimum study (years) Bachelor Masters (coursework) PhD
1. New Zealand 131333
2. Canada 3 2 3 3 3
3. Australia 242224
4. United Kingdom 2 1
5. United States 1* 1 1 1 1
Note: Updated from Berquist et al. (2019).
*+2 years for STEM graduates.
This eligibility criteria is linked to applicants completing an undergraduate degree or above. Under this denition, the shortest
duration of study would be 1 year Masters degree.
reduce the two year post-study work visa to four months (Kaplan 2019). However, recent review
suggests that a generous PSWR scheme in terms of access to longer stay in the destination country
alone can achieve short-term international enrolment targets. But to ensure longer-term retention of
highly qualied graduates, PSWR policy needs to be accompanied with other policy measures aimed
at providing a number of support resources, among which employability and integration are critical
(Trevena 2019).
In Australia, the current PSWR policy has its origins in the skilled graduate temporary visa (sub-
class 485) in 2007. The primary intended goal of this visa was to provide international graduates the
opportunities to remain in Australia for 18 months to gain professional work experience in the Aus-
tralian labour market. The skilled graduate temporary visa was not points tested but focused on the
English language ability and work experience of applicants. Moreover, after having fullled relevant
Australian employment requirements, holders of the 485 visa were awarded points in their appli-
cation for a permanent residency visa (Jackling 2007). In an eort to break the direct link between
study and migration and bolster Australias destination attractiveness to international students, the
Australian government took on a key recommendation from the Knight Review and replaced the
skilled graduate temporary with the temporary graduate visa in March 2013. The Knight Review
was released in 2011 and included 41 recommendations which focused on streamlining visa appli-
cations for the university sector and the introduction of PSWR for international student graduates.
The PSWR which was not available to VET student graduates, replaced the Skilled Graduate Tem-
porary 485 visa. This shift also represented the attempt to decouple the link between international
education and permanent migration. The Knight Review also resulted in the Genuine Temporary
Entrant (GTE) test which assessed whether a prospective international student had genuine inten-
tions for temporary stay in Australia; a key determinant for visa approvals. It is adjudged that the
introduction of the Temporary Graduate visa has positively impacted international enrolments in
higher education, particularly in postgraduate masters by coursework programmes in accounting,
IT and engineering. This increase can be attributed to Chinese and Indian students, who also dom-
inate the take-up of 485 visas (Hall 2019). The following section will discuss the recent trends relating
to this visa and place it in the context of the literature on the post-study work experiences of inter-
national students and graduates in their host countries.
Post-study employment and the temporary graduate visa
Key destination countries have strategically aligned their immigration policies with other policies to
gain an edge in attracting international students who are regarded as designer immigrants(Sim-
mons 1999). This is largely based on the view that international student graduates would have little
diculty integrating into local labour markets as they would be accustomed to the social and cultural
norms of their host country and master the language associated with their degree (Ma and Abbott
2006, 6; Salt 2005, 31). However, research (Blackmore et al. 2014; Mares 2017; Tran and Soejatminah
2016; Tran and Vu 2016) suggests that Australian employers often prefer local graduates to their
international counterparts because of the former groupsunderstanding of Australian workplaces,
their legal rights, local terminology and expectations. Further, employers may hesitate to recruit
international student graduates in general because of concerns about complexities and uncertainties
related to their visa status and these studentsunfamiliarity with the Australian workplace culture
and their English prociency (Gribble and Blackmore 2012). Parallels can also be drawn with the
experiences of international student graduates in Canada (Arthur and Flynn 2013) and the US
(Sangganjanavanich, Lenz, and Cavazos Jr 2011) where employers are often biased against inter-
national students graduates for similar reasons. A more recent study by Monahan (2018) on the
F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) visa (similar to the 485 visa in Australia) which allows inter-
national students to remain in the US to work in occupations related to their major eld of study for
1224 months also found that the non-permanent nature and complexities of the OPT added to the
diculty in securing post-study employment.
The issues and prejudices experienced by international graduates as discussed in subsequent data
analysis sections of this article can be placed in the context of issues faced by international students
(Blackmore et al. 2014) and broadly, by temporary migrants in Australia as a whole (UNSW Human
Rights Clinic 2015). The employment challenges faced by temporary migrants in Australia particu-
larly in the face of COVID19 where these issues have been exacerbated (Stayner 2020; Mares 2020),
fall beyond the scope of this paper. Nevertheless, the prejudices and challenges 485 visa holders face
as they navigate the domestic labour market will serve to highlight the wider issues temporary
migrants experience when seeking employment in Australia.
Australias Temporary Graduate 485 visa has two streams: the Graduate Work stream and the
Post-study Work stream. One of the key features of the Temporary Graduate visa is the ability
for international students under the Post-study work stream to live and work in Australia for 2
years after graduating with a Bachelor degree or Masters by coursework degree (3 years if graduating
with a Masters by research degree and 4 years if graduating with a Doctoral degree) with no require-
ments to nominate an occupation on the Medium and Long-term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL) and
have their skills assessed by the relevant assessing authority (Australian Government 2019d). Con-
versely, the Graduate Work stream imposes the aforementioned requirements as it caters for those
graduating with skills relating to a listed occupation on the MLTSSL this stream allows holders to
remain in Australia for 18 months (Australian Government 2019e). The post study work stream is
only available to students who applied for, and were granted, their rst student visa to Australia on or
after 5 November 2011.
The popularity of the post-study work rights is evident with a 593 per cent increase of inter-
national student graduates applying for the Post-Study Work visa scheme between 2013/14 and
2014/15 (Australian Government 2016); this was followed by signicant growth from 2015/16 to
2018/19 (see Figure 2). Further, the Post-Study Work stream has proved to be the more popular
option making up a signicant 84.2 percent of 485 visa grants in 20172018 (Figure 4).
It must be noted that this is due to not only the growth of the international student programme
but also the increasing number of students qualifying for the Post-Study Work stream (Australian
Government 2014; Australian Government 2018). Nonetheless, the growth of 485 visa grants
since its reintroduction is indicative that the option to remain and work after study is attractive
to international students.
The study
This study investigates how the post-study work rights policy has impacted international students
employment experience and outcomes in Australia and it sheds light on the extent to which the pol-
icy has achieved its intended goal and the emerging issues surrounding the implementation of the
PSWR policy. The study draws on (1) an analysis of Australian government policy texts and
Figure 4. Holders of graduate visas 2007mid 2019 (compiled based on data from Australian Government 2019b).
secondary datasets relating to the temporary graduate visa; (2) qualitative inquiry through in-depth
interviews and (3) a national survey with over 1150 international graduates. In-depth interviews pro-
vided nuanced understandings as to international studentsexpectations and employment outcomes
under the impact of the post-study work arrangements.
This article focuses primarily on the data from 50 in-depth interviews, including 32 with inter-
national graduates and 18 with university sta, employers, education and migration agents, govern-
ment representatives and key industry groups. The recruitment of international graduates, employer
and university staparticipants was based on their availability, access and willingness to provide
sucient information. After the researchers gained ethics approval from the university where
they are based, advertisements in magazines and newsletters relating to international education com-
bined with a snowball approach were used for the recruitment of graduate participants. Each respon-
dent was invited to a semi-structured interview of between 30 and 45 minutes. The interviews could
be face to face or via phone, at the preference of the participants. Graduate respondents were asked
open-ended questions such as what were your expectations of the temporary graduate visa,what
were your motivations to apply for this visa,what do you consider as the outcomes of this visa for
you,what were the key barriers facing you when applying for a job while being on this visaand
how has the visa been seen by your employers?. A common interview protocol was used to ensure
conformity and comprehensiveness across interviews. But participants were encouraged to move
beyond the interview guide and to articulate their specic experiences while being on the temporary
graduate visa. Pseudonyms were used in this research to protect the participantsidentity (Table 2).
A content analysis approach (Elo and Kyngäs 2008) was employed to analyse the interview data.
The researchers read each of the interview transcripts several times and coded the interview data
using NVivo version 10. The analysis was inductive and aimed to identify the patterns that emerge
from the conversations with international graduates. The process was repeated for all transcripts.
The emergent themes were classied based on their similarities and dierences.
Data analysis and ndings
The ndings highlight a dissonance in the intended objective of the PSWR policy and reality in Aus-
tralia. The government sees the temporary graduate visa as labour market participatory capital
while many graduates regard it as migration capital. In other words, from the Australian govern-
ments perspective, the visa allows international graduates to test the Australian labour market. How-
ever there is a debate as to whether post-study work rights for international graduates provide
opportunities to secure work experience in host countries or functions as a back door to migration.
The situation is complicated since many international graduates in our study see post-study work
visa as a pathway to permanent residency despite the fact that visa reforms have very much tightened
permanent migration opportunities in Australia. Notably, in-depth conversations with graduates
Table 2. The demographic features of the graduate participants.
Country of origin Field of study No. of interviewees
China STEM 4
India Management & Commerce 1
Society and Culture 1
Malaysia STEM 1
Society and Culture 1
Mexico Society and Culture 1
Singapore Society and Culture 1
Ukraine Management & Commerce 1
Vietnam Management & Commerce 15
Society and Culture 1
Total 32
however reveal the broader benets associated with the post-study work visa than merely a pathway
to permanent residency. On the one hand, while latest changes to skilled migration policy may
appear to have diminished permanent migration outcomes via the 485 visa. On the other hand,
the 485 visa is perceived to allow them to improve their English language skills and enhance their
social, cultural, networking and professional capitals and in some cases pay otheir study loans.
Temporary graduate visa seen as a pathway to migration
The 485 visa is seen by a proportion of international graduates as a path to permanent resident visa.
This tendency is illustrated in the following quotes:
Give me a shot to keep working to try and get permanent residency, so obviously it was a means to an end. It
wasnt just to get work experience, it was to ensure I got the permanent residency outcome eventually. (Brent
At that time the thinking is, actually I need a long term not just a 485 so thats the thinking of transiting. I need a
permanent residency visa almost straightaway. Ideally I dont want to step through a 485 step before I hit the
permanent residency but the situation just forced me going that way which is ne. (Isaac Blake)
The above quotes underline how the 485 visa is regarded by these international graduates as a
means to an end to secure permanent residency in Australia. For these graduates, migration is the
ultimate goal and might be more important than getting work experience through the temporary
graduate visa. This nding is echoed by our recent survey with over 1,150 international graduates
on temporary graduate visas which showed that for those who remained in Australia on this visa,
the consideration of the visa as a pathway to permanent residency was ranked the highest (Tran,
Rahimi, and Tan 2019).
However, for other temporary graduate visa holders, while migration is a motivator, obtaining a
job in their respective disciplinary area appears to be the most important reason underpinning their
application for the 485 visa. For example, Sue a fresh graduate reveals: I probably want to get PR
[permanent residency] as well, but within two years, what I want the most is getting an accounting
job. It can be seen that international graduates attach dual or multiple aspirations to the 485 visa. For
some other graduates, their initial focus was not to secure permanent residency but to gain a foothold
in their profesisonal eld. For example, one revealed international work experience is my focus
(Karla Wilson). However they soon realised that having a permanent residency status was necessary
as it somewhat functioned as a licenseto apply for a job in their eld in Australia.
Although the temporary graduate visa provides international graduates with the rights to live and
work in Australia for two to four years, employers tend to either not favour this kind of temporary
workvisa or be unclear what it entails. When asked whether they had considered to recruit an inter-
national graduate on 485 visa, an employer participant used the rhetoric why buying the burden?by
employing an international graduate (Jennie Bear employer) to convey her preference to recruit
local graduates over international ones. The former were often thought to be more familiar with
the local workplace culture than the latter. International graduates are seen as a burdenby this
employer since from her perspective, they need extra support, considerable mentoring and heavy
re-training to be ready for the job. Similar to the international student visa, the temporarynature
of the temporary graduate visa often triggers a sense of hesitation, uncertainty and lack of security
among employers, as one participant put it they [employers] will also need to invest in training, but
if international graduates can only work for them for only 2 years, they will hesitate. Its understand-
able. Such views shed light on international graduatesdesire to use the 485 visa as a stepping stone
to permanent residency as the latter is often considered more favourable by employers and provides
them with better access to the labour market and a better pathway to the desired employment. The
desire to use the 485 visa as a stepping stone to PR, either formed as their original motive or
inuenced by the structural condition which necessitates PR as a license to enter the local labour
market, was common among the international graduates, despite the fact that visa reforms have bro-
ken the education-migration nexus.
Extra time to enhance employability post-graduation
Students do not view the temporary graduate visa as signicantly enhancing their chance to secure a
job in their eld of study in Australia. However, there are other benets (time to look for a job, time
to improve English, time to accumulate knowledge and skills, & chance to improve networking)
which they perceive can indirectly enhance their employability. Aligned with Blackmore, Gribble,
and Rahimi (2015), the analysis of the data in this study shows that many international graduates
were not fully aware of the key attributes related to employability (i.e. English prociency, soft skills
for employability, networking, cultural adaptation and collaboration) during their study. Instead, the
importance of the above attributes is only realised after engaging with the labour market. Conse-
quently, many international student graduates face challenges in landing a job in their prospective
eld as they only begin to focus on acquiring and ne tuning these employability skills and attributes
while they are on the 485 visa.
Hoang Cuc, for example, explained her expectations of the post-study work visa:
My expectation of that visa is exactly like what I say, like giving the students more time to merge in the society
they are, like to get to know the culture, to learn, to improve their language, to improve their networking skills,
to get to know more people, and know about the places they want to live. (Hoang Cuc)
Knight and Yorke (2004, 22) dene employability as a set of achievements, understandings and
personal attributes that make individuals more likely to gain employment and be successful in their
chosen occupations. Similarly, international graduates use the opportunity and extra time in the
host country aorded by the 485 visa to enhance skills and attributes required in the eld. This is
substantiated by Phan a Finance and Management graduate who worked in a café to improve
his English language skills and ready himself for future job applications in this professional eld
of study:
I improved my speech, my responsibility when I worked and now I work in an Australian cafe. I talk to inter-
national friends. I have a lot of international friends. I improved my English speaking skill. Before I got this job I
spoke English pretty bad, like not uently or even pronunciation was bad. They cant understand what I say. But
then, because I made friends with them, they helped me to adjust it, day by day. And now I think Im much
better than before. (Phan)
While graduates on the 485 visa preferred to secure employment in their respective eld of study,
a signicant number end up working in jobs outside their eld of study (Tran et al. 2019). However,
working in odd jobs can help international graduates hone their communication and social skills that
are important to round otheir employability, as one of the participants put it: 485 visa helped as a
pathway to the 189 visa and improve social skills while working odd jobs and hospitality.
From the perspective of graduates with some experience of job hunting in the market, the ability
to be able to work unlimited hours provided by the post-study work visa can be more appealing to
potential employers thus enhancing their employability:
it [the 485 visa] gives me a privilege to work a full time job. And unlimited hours per week. I mean I can work
any hours I want, any amount of hours I want. But in a student visa I only can work 20 hours and even the
shops, like kitchen hand or chef, like Im doing now, I can only work 20 hours. And the chance that I get
employed is lower. (Bui Giang)
The lack of work experience is a major cause of concern for international graduates in Australia
(Blackmore et al. 2014). While the prospect of achieving their professional goals remains uncertain
for those unable to secure a job in their eld of study, the future is brighter and extends beyond Aus-
tralia for international graduates such as Hong Dao who are able to secure employment in their pro-
fessional eld:
In my situation, actually I think I got what I want in the beginning. This visa is for me to nd experience, again
the experience, the real experience in the workplace. I nally got the professional job and I can make a living by
my own and with the professional job I learned a lot. Even if I have to go back to Vietnam I still have some
knowledge and have important skill to nd a job in my country. (Hong Dao)
Enhancing social and professional networks
Networking as a means of getting access to work opportunities and building social capital means to
acquire additional forms of distinction that is valued by international graduates (Gribble, Rahimi,
and Blackmore 2017). Importantly, networking was perceived by participants to be crucial to enhan-
cing cultural knowledge and securing employment. While working, even part-time or in a job unre-
lated d to their study, international graduates can meet more people in the workplace, and make
connections with friends from dierent countries who could share information and experience
about jobs. Phan, an international graduate, who temporarily works in café mentioned:
the visa oers me a higher chance, higher opportunity to get a job, so when I get a job, I can make friends, and I
can widen my social area, like working in an Australian cafe at the moment. I have met a friend with many
international friends. Nepalese, Thai, even Australian people a lot. (Phan)
Another international graduate of Finance and Management explained:
I think because I have a two-year stay in Australia, so during that time, I tried to make friends with other people,
especially people working in my eld and especially students in my eld. I would have a big network of friends
so when they have a job, you can share some experience in looking for jobs sometimes. I think that kind of visa
is quite useful. You have a lot of friends from many countries. (Hieu Nghia)
These stories shared by the participants highlight the benets to those who actively invested in
expanding their social networks over the duration of their further stay period under the 485 visa.
However, the extent to which graduates were able to enhance their professional networks or
approach their networks for recruitment appears to be limited, considering their lack of engagement
in the labour market related to their disciplines. For example, one of the participants in this study
Actually, I think this issue is one thing we can consider more because in my knowledge, at the moment, only a
very limited number of graduates get the chance to connect with the professional networks that are related to
their courses.
Review of existing research across dierent host labour market also suggests that insucient pro-
fessional networks appear to be one of the common barriers facing international students and gradu-
ates (Berquist et al. 2019).
Improving English language prociency
Considering employersemphasis on graduatescommunication skills, investment in English
language capital is a critical factor for international graduatesprofessional achievement. In addition,
inadequate English language skills diminish opportunities for international students to accumulate
cultural and language capital during their stay in Australia (Blackmore et al. 2014). As a Chinese-
national graduate with a Bachelor of Computer Science mentioned:
Normally the times I went to career expo, [employers] only hired citizens and PRs, or very good English speak-
ing international students, particularly, if you had IELTS tests, or all points at eight. (Shen)
According to most participants, being able to extend their stay in Australia under the 485 visa
provides them with more time to improve their English which can be crucial for those seeking
PR due to the Australian governments emphasis on high scores in IELTS when accruing points
for PR. However, despite the timefactor associated with the 485 visa which can play a part in
10 L. T. TRAN ET AL.
graduatesimproving their English, only one international graduate (working as a teacher) partici-
pating in this study made a signicant improvement and achieved the high score of 8 in the IELTS
Getting a return on investment in overseas study
International students, who sought to live and work in Australia for a few years after graduation but
did not necessarily want to apply for PR, often reected positively on the 485 visa and their post-
study work experiences. They often regarded this visa as an opportunity to gain professional experi-
ences and earn some income as a return on their investment in overseas study or/and to pay back
their study loan. However, the challenges of employerslack of understanding of the 485 visa and
preference for those holding PR and citizenship remain. For example, an interviewee, who completed
a Masters in Electricity Engineering but could not secure a job in his eld, decided to start up his
cleaning business. Creating jobs for himself and his international peers, he mentioned he was able
to earn more than seventy thousand dollars as a return on his investment in his Masters degree
and English course: My Masters degree and English course cost more than seventy thousand dol-
lars. After one and a half years working I could cover this cost. In a similar vein, another graduate
For me, yes, I, I spent a lot of my savings to come here, so I denitely wanted to work for at least a year or two
and, and get that money back and then go back to my country if that was planned or stay here. And it [the 485
visa] gives you that exibility.
Although the primary goal of securing employment in their respective eld is not met, a pro-
portion of international graduates strategically position the 485 visa as a means to paying otheir
loans, accumulating work experiences and honing employability skills through working in occu-
pations unrelated to their study eld.
Employerslimited knowledge of the 485 visa restrains the outcomes
Despite the many benets associated with the post study work visa, the data reveals some key con-
straints for the implementation of this visa in relation to its initial objectives. Many of the inter-
national graduates interviewed mentioned employers favour those with PR as they do not fully
understand the 485 visa, in particular its temporary aspect. This is reinforced by the employer par-
ticipant who asked why buy the burden(Jennie Bear, employer) in hiring international graduates
while their company always has a large pool of applicants who are either on PR visa or Australian
citizens. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If employers do not see its beauty, then the 485 visa
itself does not lend international graduates any advantage in securing employment in their pro-
fessional elds and only provides them with a legalpathway to remain in Australia to look for a
job. Depending in the discipline/area, employers might sponsor international graduates. However,
while some industries may be familiar/more comfortable with employing someone on a temporary
visa (Gribble, Rahimi, and Blackmore 2017), our research revealed that employer sponsorship rarely
happened for international graduates in most of the disciplines.
Concluding discussion and recommendations
The ndings of this study show that the temporary graduate visa provides international students
with a chance to round otheir employability skills, pay otheir study loans, build a network of
contacts, improve their English language skills and enhance their social capital in Australia. They
were of the view that Australian employers prefer those applicants holding permanent residency
or citizenship and are unclear about the temporary graduate visa or hesitate in recruiting inter-
national graduates on this visa. International graduates on this visa therefore found themselves in
a disadvantaged position in a competitive labour market in the host country. The majority of inter-
national graduates participating in this study found that it was vital to invest their resources in
enhancing their English language prociency, professional networks, and relevant professional
experiences and undertaking some professional qualications to improve their eligibility for perma-
nent residency so as to enhance their access to their desired employment. These ndings present a
number of issues relating to the quality of international education and how it intersects with the 485
A common perception held by participants in our study is that the 485 visa allowed them the
opportunity to remain in Australia and buy extra time to expand their various networks, gain soft
skills and improve their English language skills. This perception is in contrast with the long held
notion that international students make ideal immigrants. The theory that exposure to Australian
culture, language and way of life would mean a shorter period of adjustment and integration into
the local labour market is awed if international graduates were only developing these attributes
after their graduation while on the 485 visa. This nding troubles Simmons (1999) concept of inter-
national graduates as designer immigrants.
The study raises questions not only on the quality of the education received by international stu-
dents in Australia, but also how the temporary nature of 485 visa can be an obstacle in the job seeking
process for international graduates if employers discriminate against those on the 485 visa. This
further exacerbates the previous point that students are not suciently equipped to look for work
right after they graduate. To some extent, these two factors in conjunction limit the otherwise
more positive experience international graduates could have under the 485 visa.
In the context of Australia, the temporary graduate visa was re-introduced with the core goal to
enable Australian international education to remain competitive on the education export market.
This visa has been used as Australias drawcard for international students who contributed over
40 billion dollars to the national economy and created more than 250,000 jobs for Australians in
2019 (ABS 2020). However, international graduates on this same visa face a number of challenges
and barriers in securing employment in Australia. Hence supporting international graduates on
the temporary graduate visa is to strengthen this important incentive in attracting international stu-
dents to Australia in an international landscape where leading competitor countries also have similar
post-study work programmes in place. Failing to do so raises both ethical and economic concerns for
Australia which has long enjoyed the economic, cultural and diplomatic benets associated with
international education.
The ndings of this research point out a multidimensional approach necessary to enhance the
experiences and outcomes of international graduates on the 485 visa. There is a critical need to
develop a more concerted approach across dierent sectors related to international education to
extend the support for international students to post-study. The key stakeholders in international
education which includes the government, the international education sector, the migration sector
including the Department of Home Aairs and migration agents, professional organisations, univer-
sity, communities, employers, international students and international student associations, should
collaborate more closely to provide more systemic and targeted resources and support for inter-
national graduates.
Firstly, in the context of Australia, the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA)
can take the leading role in collaborating HE institutions and key agencies including Universities
Australia, International Education Association of Australian and New Zealand (ISANA), Victorian
Working Group on International Student Employability (VicWISE), AMES Australia, City Councils
and Council of International Students (CISA) to work together more closely to develop appropriate
initiatives and strategies to support international students who remain in Australia post graduation.
Secondly, based on the ndings of this study, we also argue for a critical need for universities to pro-
vide international graduates access to institutionsresources and continuing career support to
enhance their employability and employment outcomes. It is important to ensure the integration
of career education, including development of employability skills, WIL and professional portfolio
12 L. T. TRAN ET AL.
early in the study programme. However, it is equally important to extend targeted support to inter-
national students post graduation. At the moment, the main form of support for international gradu-
ates in Australia reported in this study is the opportunity to attend alumni network meetings
organised by individual institutions once or twice per year. However, international alumni, who
have graduated, are no longer provided with access to institutionscareer counselling and career sup-
port services such as soft skills development workshops, industry connection events, industry
updates and resume development workshops, available to international students. Thirdly, the preju-
dices temporary migrants in general face in their endeavors as they navigate the domestic labour
market needs to be addressed at a more systemic level.
It is crucial for the international education sector, universities and related stakeholders to have
specic campaigns and exible and practical approaches to aligning employersneeds and strengths
of international graduates. Reciprocal benets of recruiting international graduates need to be commu-
nicated in explicit and meaningful way that is specically tied to the context and missions of organis-
ations. Currently, the general benets of international education and international students are well
known, but mainly to people already familiar with them, rather than the broader community in Aus-
tralia. A practical guide that assists employers to hire international graduates should be introduced with
practical steps that organisations can take to employ international graduates. The introduction of
specialist support groups such as International Graduate Talent or International Graduate Achieve
are valuable initiatives to support international graduate employability Creative and exible approaches
and partnerships with employers at a systemic level is urgently needed. Best practices in establishing
and maintaining partnerships with employers to enhance international graduatesemployment out-
comes need to be shared among education providers. These are crucial steps forward if Australian inter-
national education is to remain competitive on the education export market and to ensure that
Australia can tap into and maximise the potential of a skilled transient or migrant workforce.
The Post-Study Work stream was modied (in March 2019) due to the Commonwealth Govern-
mentseorts to address issues relating to population pressures and buckling infrastructure in Mel-
bourne and Sydney by channeling more migrants to regional dened parts of Australia. The current
iteration of the Post-Study Work stream under the Temporary Graduate visa now allows inter-
national student graduates from universities in regional dened areas to extend their stay in Austra-
lia by applying for an extra year after their initial 485 visa (Australian Government 2019f). While it is
too soon to fully understand the full scale impact of this visa reform, it is likely that unless 485 visa
outcomes are improved, the current issues facing international graduates could subvert Australias
competitiveness globally in the face of evolving international student expectations and converging
policies relating post-study work rights in competing study destinations.
We would like to acknowledge the very helpful suggestions from the anonymous Reviewers and the valuable insights
from the research participants.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author(s).
This work was supported by Deakin University.
Ly Thi Tran
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... The country has, therefore, always tried to attract and retain international students. Recently, Australia has called for more attention to be paid to enhancing international graduates' post-study employability outcomes because international students now see the possibility of obtaining work experience and employability as a significant factor when choosing their host institution (Pham, 2020;Tran et al., 2020). ...
... The second perspective, which could be called the sociological perspective, stresses that employability outcomes result from the development and utilisation of a range of forms of capital, including not only human but also social, cultural, identity, and psychological capital (e.g. Brown et al., 2004;Tomlinson, 2017). Studies deploying this perspective have found that international graduates have limited social networks and understandings of the local workplace (Tran et al., 2020;Pham et al., 2019). Migrants have been revealed to have similar limitations, including limited knowledge about the unwritten 'rules' and particular codes of behaviours and norms of the workplace, therefore finding it difficult to integrate into the host labour market (Bauder, 2003). ...
... Third, different strategies developed and deployed by the graduates also showed that although international graduates decided to remain in the host country, and, as per Tran et al. (2020), the majority wanted to obtain permanent residency, they were not a homogeneous group following the same linear trajectory of 'study-graduate-obtain permanent residency-settle' as is currently featured in the research on international student migration (e.g. King et al., 2010). ...
This study deployed a biographical interpretive method to explore how international graduates enhanced and navigated communication competencies in the target labour market. Twenty-five international graduates from various disciplines at Australian universities participated in in-depth interviews. The findings revealed that the graduates faced difficulties in building social interactions in the host country but could develop various forms of agency to both improve on and navigate perceived limitations. Their strategies included enhancing linguistic skills and ‘legitimate language’, using ethnic capital, and countering societal pressure. The graduates knew how to use these strategies separately and collectively to not only bring about employability outcomes but also achieve other types of fulfilment. The study’s results imply that international students should not be treated as a homogenous group who have similar aspirations and experience a similar linear post-study journey. Besides, the skills-based approach currently implemented by host institutions is inadequate to prepare international students for effective communication competencies and employability negotiation. Universities and industries should build closer relationships, and university programmes should embed diverse forms of capital so that international students have sufficient resources for various post-study pathways and short- and long-term career journeys.
... Likewise, they have an opportunity to explore themselves after the completion of their study. They can garner international work experiences as well as earn money during their stay abroad (Tran et al., 2020). Hence, student migration has become the prime concern of both economic and social development because of its quality education and recognized degree. ...
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Student migration has been increasing over recent years in Nepal. The increasing numbers of students leave the country to the developed countries for their higher education with the hope of getting practical skills and knowledge and other valuable experiences to enhance their future carrier. This paper intends to explore the motivation and excitements among international students while flying abroad to pursue their higher education from the developed countries. In doing so, narrative inquiry was adopted as research methodology with the aim of exploring their stories of mobility. Using purposive sampling, three participants were selected from International English Language Testing System (IELTS) preparatory class for the study, while data was collected through in-depth interview using open ended questions. The collected data was further transcribed, coded, categorized and thematized in the process of meaning making. The study revealed that students who have moved abroad have their own stories of motivation and excitement. Their stories of motivation, as the study revealed, were linked to their expectation of handsome earning and pursuing a foreign degree. Moreover, this paper also highlights the motivation of prospective students and their desire to fly abroad for their academic journey.
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Many host-countries have liberalised migration policies to facilitate the transition of international students to the local labour market as they are seen as economic agents who increase global competitiveness and integrate easily. However, how migration and educational policies at the regional and national levels emerge, are negotiated and become implemented, and how they contradict other policies, remains little-known. This special issue aims to address that gap. This introductory paper offers an analytical framework for studying policies of international student mobility that addresses four critical dimensions: discourses, contexts, agents and temporalities before offering some key avenues for future research.
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This article asks whether there should be a limit on the number of years that a temporary migrant can reside in Australia before either being granted permanent residence or required to depart. Temporary migration on the scale now experienced in Australia is a relatively recent phenomenon that contrasts strongly with the established pattern of permanent settler migration that characterised Australia in the 20th Century. As a result, the question of whether or not there should be a limit to temporariness has not yet been addressed in public policy debates. Drawing on the approach of Jospeh H. Carens (2013), I take Australia’s self-definition as a liberal democracy as a standard to which the nation sees itself as ethically and politically accountable. I argue that a commitment to liberal democracy renders a purely contractual approach to migration invalid—more specifically, a migrant’s consent to the terms of a temporary visa does not provide sufficient ethical grounds to extend that temporary status indefinitely. Moving beyond a contractual approach to consider whether current temporary migration arrangements are consistent with the principles of representative democracy raises debates within liberalism, particularly between cosmopolitan and communitarian perspectives. I argue that practical policy must reconcile these cosmopolitan and communitarian positions. I consider, but reject, the option of strictly time-limited temporary visas that would require migrants to depart after a set number of years and instead recommend a pathway to permanent residence based on duration of stay.
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Study at a foreign university can be an important way of developing international human capital. We investigate factors affecting international student flows for higher education and their consequences for bilateral market integration in Australia. Estimation results demonstrate that income, cost competitiveness, migration network effects and other education pathways increase the demand for tertiary education. Our results show that university study, inter alia, is an important determinant of bilateral trade between Australia and the student’s home country.
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China, Vietnam and Republic of Korea are amongst the top five source countries of international students for Australia. This chapter focuses on the narratives of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese students as globally mobile learners. It draws on a larger study on the educational experiences of 105 international students from 25 Australian colleges. Drawing on a Bourdieuian conceptual framework and the related notions of ‘investment’ and ‘cosmopolitan’, the chapter shows that international Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese students are motivated to engage in cross-border education by the aspiration for intellectual, professional, cultural, linguistic and citizenship transformations. Integrated extrinsic and intrinsic motives appear to underpin their engagement in international education. Accordingly, the traditional view that sees academic considerations as the main or sole impetus for students’ cross-border mobility to pursue an international education is no longer relevant in a more globalised age. In addition, the research highlights the association between international students’ choice of mobility and the navigation of their identity paths.
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There is an increasing volume of international students enrolled in the vocational education and training sector in many countries. However, questions of ethnicity and identity in VET have not been explicitly examined in relation to this group. This paper offers some valuable insights into the complex and varying ways in which ethnicity is interrelated to the issues of identity of international students who have non-citizen status in the host country. It draws on a four-year qualitative study funded by the Australian Research Council that includes 105 interviews with international students and fieldwork in VET institutes across three states of Australia: New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. The research highlights forms of injustice including non-recognition of skills due to skin colour, disadvantage with regard to employment opportunities, being positioned as deficient in the classroom and workplace, unjust stereotypes and violation of rights. The research also reports international students’ specific strategies in exercising both individual and collective agency to seek a ‘space’ for comfort, mutual support and communal strength and to confront injustices. The paper concludes with some practical recommendations for institutions to support international students’ agency and build an inclusive environment for international students in VET.
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The enrollment of international students (e.g. students admitted using a F-1 visa into the U.S.) has been increasing continually for the past six academic years in American higher educational institutions. This article explores how Chinese applicants make decisions during their application journey for Master's degree programs in business schools. The study employs a netnographic approach to analyse user-generated content posted in one virtual consumer forum. The findings show that Chinese students not only use this forum for school information and alumni reviews, but they also collect suggestions from fellow applicants in their decision-making process. The findings also offer managerial implications for American universities, articulating how institutions of higher education should use proactive institutional branding to attract graduate students from one of the most coveted target markets: the People's Republic of China. The effective use of marketing communications via online websites coupled with offline recruitment fairs demonstrate how universities must embrace omnichannel marketing in their institutional branding.
Tran, L., Rahimi, M. & Tan, G. (2019). Temporary graduatification: Impacts of post-study work rights policy in Australia. REDI: Deakin University. Link to the full report: Post-study work rights (PSWR) are becoming increasingly influential in international students’ decision of study destinations. The rights and opportunities to work in the host country postgraduation are integral to international students’ expectations about return on investment in overseas study, employment goals, life and migration aspirations. Policy makers and education providers regard post-study work opportunities in the host countries as a drawcard for international students. Accordingly, enhancing employment prospects and outcomes of international graduates who stay in the destination country is increasingly crucial both for host country’s sustainable growth of international students and commitment to delivering on promise.
Britain’s scheduled exit from the European Union (‘Brexit’) has long-term ramifications for strategic marketing. Faced with new challenges and uncertainty, UK universities are increasingly looking beyond EU borders to recruit international students. In this context, we draw upon country-of-origin theory to categorise the factors that influence non-EU international student decisions to select an overseas study destination and institution. Based on the results of a survey with 317 Arab, Chinese, and Indian students attending UK universities, we identify eight factors that influence international student decisions to study in the UK (social safety, education quality, entry obstacles, environment, recommendations, knowledge of host country, work and immigration, and meeting new cultures). The results address gaps in the literature, offering new insights that will help practitioners and academics to better understand how international students select a country and university as a study location.
The integration of work experience and learning in tertiary education is a complex issue for different stakeholders, including students, institutions, and employers. The provision of course-related work experience for international students is far more challenging as it involves issues of visa status, different cultural expectations, recognition/misrecognition of skills and experiences across cultures, English language competency, and local employers’ attitudes toward international students. Even though there is a significant body of scholarly research on work-integrated learning in tertiary education, empirical research on this issue related to international students remains scarce. This article responds to a critical gap in the literature by examining the provision of course-related work experience for international students from both the teachers’ and students’ perspectives. It is derived from a 4-year research project funded by the Australian Research Council that includes 155 interviews with staff and international students and fieldwork from the Australian vocational education and training (VET) sector. Drawing on Bourdieu’s notions of habitus and field as conceptual tools to interpret the empirical data, the research found work-integrated learning is unevenly distributed and inconsistently implemented across institutions. The article addresses the complex interplay between the student habitus and the habitus within the institutional field and the workplace field in shaping international students’ work-integrated learning access and experience. Practical implications for institutions on how to improve access and experience to course-related work experience for international students are discussed in light of the findings of this research.
Post-study employment for international students in Australia has emerged as a key issue facing the international education sector. For international graduates seeking to differentiate themselves in a highly competitive labour market, foreign work experience is now seen as a necessary part of the overseas study ‘package’. However, international students seeking to augment their international qualification with host country work experience face many challenges. Lack of formal work experience programmes, difficulties identifying placement opportunities, issues surrounding English language competency and ‘soft skills’, and limited local networks are some of the barriers to labour market entry for international students. Visa policy also presents significant challenges. However, many of the barriers international students face when attempting to transition into the Australian workplace stem from international students’ broader struggle to connect with the Australian society during their study experience. Drawing on a 3-year study of international graduates transitioning into the Australian labour market, this chapter examines how international student connectedness both on campus and in the local community is closely linked to the development of key ‘employability’ skills demanded in the Australian workplace.