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The PR problem: Graduate job prospects for international students in Australia

Kaili Ding

Tue May 29 2012


A recent survey’s found Australian employers are less likely to hire graduates without permanent residence. But Meld’s Kaili Ding spoke to industry insiders, and she’s discovered there may still be hope yet.

Do a quick search on any job site, and chances are you’ll find countless numbers of ads stipulating only citizens and permanent residents need apply. It’s no surprise then that many newly-graduated international students worry their visa status could be a barrier to them landing a job. Now, a recent graduate outlook survey may have confirmed their fears.

The Graduate Careers Australia’s Graduate Outlook Survey report for 2011 found that more than 70 per cent of government, defence and health employers surveyed cited lack of permanent residence as the main reason why they did not recruit international graduates. Forty percent of those surveyed from the accounting and finance industry cited the same reason, followed by 29.6 per cent of mining and engineering employers and 16.7 per cent of employers in the legal sector.

However, hope is not entirely lost as the report did show signs that Australian employers’ demand for international graduates in 2011 had increased by levels not seen since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.

The executive director of Graduate Careers Australia (GCA), Dr Noel Edge, said this is encouraging for international students studying in Australia.

“There appears to be more employment opportunities for international graduates and we hope to see this grow into the future,” he said.

Hope remains

Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) Chief Executive, Mark Stone told Meld VECCI  has long been a strong supporter of international education in Victoria and recognises that the state is sustained and rejuvenated by those who choose to come here as students and working professionals.

VECCI said it had partnered with the Committee for Melbourne to launch the “Welcome to Victoria” initiative in late 2011, which aims to create safe and welcoming workplaces for employees from overseas and interstate.

Some employers told Meld they were willing to hire international student graduates because of the skills these graduates bring to the job.

Claire Strik, graduate recruitment manager of KPMG, said her company hired international graduates because the diversity of experience, skills and backgrounds that they bring directly influences the quality of business outcomes KMPG can offer to their clients.

“Opening our applications to international students is just another way of attracting the best bright minds to work at KPMG,” she said.

But Robert Fortescue, the Victorian general manager for Candle, a specialist IT recruiting firm, said it was becoming more difficult to secure a role in IT without the relevant visa, as companies were reluctant to offer sponsorship when they had a steady flow of graduates with citizenship or PR.

However, he conceded employment prospects still existed for international students.

“I wouldn’t necessarily agree that the chances [of securing a job] are minimal  as there is a growing demand for skilled IT workers with niche skills,” Mr Fortescue said.

Maximising job prospects

So how can international students maximise their chances of being employed  after, and even before, graduation? One suggestion is to make sure you have applied for a visa that gives you full working rights such as a Temporary Skilled Graduate (subclass 485) visa.

“It can help, there are more companies taking people on board on fixed term contracts now,” said Mr Fortescue. “So if a student had a temporary 485 visa for 18 months they can work in a contract position or positions for that period.  This enables the visa holder to gain work experience to allow them to then apply for PR if they accumulate enough points.”

However, for those looking to better their employment prospects while still studying , the highly-anticipated outcome of the Knight Review may be more relevant.

A spokesperson from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations said the Government’s response to the  review included changes to work opportunities for international students from March 26 2012 including

  •  allowing students to spread out work  shifts over 40 hours per fortnight during course time as opposed to strictly 20 hours per week
  • no limits on work hours for Higher Degree by Research students.

“These changes provide flexibility for students and employers and enable students to gain work experience which could assist in gaining full employment on graduation,” the spokesperson told Meld.

In addition to more working hours, the Australian government will also be offering a new post-study work visa to international graduates.

“International students who applied for visas after November 5, 2011 and complete at least two academic years study in Australia will be eligible for post study work visas of two years for Bachelor and Masters by coursework, three years for masters by research and four years for Doctoral degrees,” the spokesperson said.

However, this means international students who applied for visas before November 5, 2011 will miss out on this visa.

In employers’ hands?

The Knight Review could potentially open up new doors for international graduates, but how the changes are received by the employers will ultimately determine the fate of these graduates.

“Employment decisions are matters for individual employers and depend on applicants having the skills that the employer is seeking,” said the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations spokesman when queried about this.

Ultimately, this indicates the future job prospects of international student are in the hands of Australian employers. Only time will tell if the government’s visa reforms will be relevant and if the employability of international graduates will remain a concern.