Recap: In early December last year, the Federal Government released its 99-page Migration Strategy to address temporary skills shortages and close ‘loopholes’ in the existing migration system. The key themes of this package include better protection for the worker’s rights of temporary migrants and a renewed focus on permanent migrants to meet Australia’s workforce needs.
Reducing the response times for visa applications from 50 to 11 days and creating a more transparent pathway to permanent migration are certainly issues our community should welcome. However, for some, the policy changes aren’t all positive.
Greater scrutiny for language proficiency testing and lowering the age cap for Temporary Graduate Visa (485) applications from 55 to 35 has made its way into public opinion as unfair and unwarranted. However, the age cap restriction will be the primary focus here.
We spoke to stakeholders within the sector on this matter, and it appears no one recommended the proposed age cap restriction. Why? Because most in this sector know that a large proportion of the PhD cohort is made up of International students over 30.
“The latest data from the Department of Home Affairs shows that close to half of higher degree candidates with visas granted in 2022-23 were aged 30 or over.” said Prof. Jill Blackmore, National President of The Australian Association of University Professors.
“This means by the time they have their PhD conferred, many of them will likely be 35 years old or older, rendering them ineligible for post-study work visas under the new regulation while leaving skills gaps in our workforce unfilled.”
Concerns from the Group of Eight
The Group of Eight, representing Australia’s highest-ranking research universities, shared concerns similar to Blackmore.
“Admission into PhD programmes requires extensive academic and often industry experience. Given completing a PhD in Australia takes four years or longer, depending on the research project, this change means many international graduates will not qualify under the new TGV age limit.” said Ms Thomson, Chief Executive & Director of the Group of Eight.
“Exempting PhD students will have a minimal impact on Australia’s migration system in terms of overall numbers but will protect the future of Australia’s research and innovation leadership pipeline,”
Concerns here at UQ
The UQ Graduate School confirmed that a significant proportion of UQ’s Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students would be affected by
“If enacted, this would have negative effects for UQ. Nearly half of our HDR cohort is international. These students contribute to UQ’s research standing and enrich our university community.”
“HDR students in their 30s and beyond bring extra experience and expertise, so it would be a blow to limit enrolments of these more mature researchers. ” said Professor Virginia Slaughter, Dean of UQ’s Graduate School.
What is currently being done to prevent this?
“This seems to be a poorly thought-out policy that undermines Australia’s long-term research interests. Hopefully, the Australian Government will allow an open dialogue to accept further consultation on this issue.” said Jeryn Chang, the current Vice-President of Student Rights at the UQ Union and last year’s Co-President of UQ Association of Postgraduate Associations.
“On our end, we will work with other lobbying groups to ensure students at our campuses are heard.”
While an age cap could be applicable for some professions, this blanket approach does not fit the needs of the research sector. If anything, it’s a hindrance. Many in the research sector now fear Australia will lose its competitive edge in attracting international talent for research to other countries.
As we exit the quiet time of the year, different groups within the sector have begun discussing the next step to lobbying against this policy. We can only hope that the government will listen to the voices of reason and amend this policy for the benefit of international students and Australian research.
For international students studying at UQ, please be assured the UQU Student Advocacy and Support’s Visa team will run Information sessions on visa changes should they come into effect. In the meantime, if you have a current visa issue you’d like to discuss with our team, you can make an appointment here.