International students in Australia could be marooned by abolition of ‘457 visa’

Students who entered Australia before November 2011 left with limited post-study work options given they are not eligible for 485 temporary graduate visas either

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2017, 2:28pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2017, 10:28pm

Australia’s abolition of skilled work visas could unfairly affect international students who have spent years studying with the intent to work in the country, say advocates and students.

Students who entered the country before November 2011 could be left marooned by the sudden changes the so-called “457 visa” without a valid avenue to work in Australia.

Most international students rely on 485 Temporary graduate visas to commence work in Australia after their degrees, but applicants under the visa’s unskilled post-study work stream are ineligible for 485 visas if they entered the country before November 2011.

The largest number of international students come from China and India, with Chinese making up almost 30 per cent of all foreign students enrolled in Australia in 2016.

Dhaval Shukla, a spokesperson for international postgraduate students at the University of Sydney, said 457 was the lifeline for students who did not fall into other common visa categories such as the temporary graduate visa (485) or skilled visas (189 or 190).

“As soon as the announcement was made, I started getting emails from students who either entered the country before November 2011 or whose degree wasn’t listed.

“It’s not fair on them – for six years they’ve been paying the fees applicable for international students. They’ve dedicated their lives to studying in Australia and all of a sudden they’re expected to leave the country and go off.”

Fiona, who spoke on the condition of a pseudonym, is an American student who came to Australia in 2010 for a masters degree in media and film studies. After moving on to a PhD, she found herself caught out by the 457 and citizenship changes.

“I’ve been here for seven years,” she said. “I love Australia so much I want to join the military and contribute in that capacity. But for some of us, 457 was our only pathway to stay.

“We’re the ones who have spent the most money in this country. We’ve contributed. I volunteered for Legacy, which raises money for veterans. I volunteered during elections.

“I gave my loyalty to Australia and I feel like I’m being punished for coming early, or at the wrong time. For those of us caught in the middle, they should have given us something.”

Shukla said he has spoken to a student who entered Australia in 2002 as a child and is now barred by the change.

“One student came to Australia with her mother when she was six or seven, 15 years ago, just for a year while her mother was studying,” he said.

“She did a year of schooling, then came back to do a masters in international relations, looking to work in NGO aid in Australia. Now she’ll have to go back to her home country. It’s a special circumstance, but the government does not consider special circumstances.”

Fiona said in order to join the military, she suddenly faced a 10-year wait for citizenship, under new rules that require four years of permanent residence announced by the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

“You’re sitting on bridging visas for two years, maybe four years,” Fiona said.

“Then permanent resident. Then four years until citizenship.

“For me, that’s a really long pathway for wanting to contribute to this country. Especially since I’ve already been here for seven years. I am chomping at the bit to participate in Australian civil life, but I can’t do that by waiting five years, under the old rules, and now they’re saying I have to wait another four”.

Laurie Berg, a researcher in immigration and labour law at the University of Technology Sydney, said the changes represent a trend of pushing students towards temporary visas.

“There’s an ever-decreasing number of pathways,” she said.

“The increasing work experience requirements will disadvantage students, as well as the decreased number of occupations. It’s already been the case for some time that it is very hard to move from a student visa directly on to permanent residence.

“There were roughly 6,000 applicants for the 457 visa from holders of student visas in the last financial year, which is under 10 per cent of 457 grants. From what I understand, the changes mean doctoral students will be hit hardest as there isn’t another student visa for them to move on to and they won’t have the work experience for other visas.”

The post-study work stream of the 485 visa lets students live and work in Australia for two years after completing a bachelors degree, three after a masters and four after a doctorate.

Shukla said the changes added to the stress international students suffer in Australia.

“Lets not forget, right from day one when international students apply for student visas, we face huge issues. We pay higher costs than domestic students – at least $60,000 for two years if you’re being modest. In states like New South Wales we have no travel subsidies and a higher cost of living. The problems are many and the 457 changes just added to it.”