Australia’s graduate visa age limit change: A crisis for international students

By Postgraduate Officer Mal Fituch

The Australian government announced changes to the Temporary Graduate visa programs in its recent Migration Strategy. They are intended to take effect from 1 July 2024. These changes have sparked a wave of confusion and anger among international students. The government’s decision to lower the maximum eligible age for the Temporary Graduate Work Visa (subclass 485) from 50 to 35 years has left many students in a state of limbo. This policy shift threatens to undermine the aspirations of countless international students who chose Australia as their destination for higher education and post-graduate work experience. 

The upcoming changes include the re-alignment of the Temporary Graduate visa streams to levels of study. The Graduate Work stream will be renamed to the Post-Vocational Education Work stream and the Post-Study Work stream will be renamed to the Post-Higher Education Work stream. The maximum eligible age for Post-Vocational Education Work stream will reduce to 35 years. Hong Kong and British National Overseas passport holders will still be eligible to apply if they are under 50 years of age. The maximum eligible age for Post-Higher Education Work stream will also reduce to 35 years, but the list of exemptions is longer. 

  1. Masters (research) – students enrolled in master by research degrees will be exempt from the new age limit. They will still be eligible for Post-Higher Education Work stream if they are under the age of 50. 
  1. Doctoral degrees (PhD) – similarly, students pursuing a doctoral degree (PhD) will also be eligible for Post-Higher Education Work stream up until the age limit of 50. 
  1. Hong Kong and British National Overseas passport holders will still be eligible if they are under 50 years of age. 

Reducing the age limit to 35 years means that students who have already turned 36 at the time of their application for a visa will no longer be eligible for temporary graduate visa streams (unless they qualify for one of the exemptions). The exemptions do not apply to coursework-based programs.  

The details regarding the changes to the Temporary Graduate visa program can be found here

A controversial move 

The Australian government justifies this policy change as a strategy to build a “skilled workforce.” However, this rationale overlooks the substantial contributions that older international students bring to the workforce. Many of these students possess significant work experience, advanced degrees, and specialised skills that are highly valuable in various industries. By excluding individuals over 35 from eligibility, Australia risks losing a diverse and highly skilled segment of its potential workforce. 

The human impact 

For many international students currently studying in Australia, the new age limit is more than just a bureaucratic adjustment—it is a profound disruption of their future. These students invested their time, money, and effort into an Australian education with the expectation that they could gain valuable work experience after graduation. Many of them have their families here. Their children go to Australian schools and have already built valuable relationships. Now, with the sudden policy shift, their future in Australia is uncertain. This is a change they have not been prepared for and, certainly, they were not expecting to happen when they made their decision to move to Australia.  

Ethical concerns 

The government’s decision raises significant ethical questions. The government’s disregard for the adverse effects on current international students is ethically troubling. By ignoring the commitments these students made based on existing policies, the government is undermining the trust and confidence that international students place in Australia’s education and migration systems. 

If unaddressed, the implications of this policy change could be far-reaching. Australia’s academic and skilled-work sectors, which rely heavily on international talent, could face significant setbacks. The potential loss of skilled graduates may weaken Australia’s position in the global economy as well as academic community. It will harm the nation’s long-term economic and innovative capacities. Additionally, the negative impact on the skilled migration industry could deter future international students from choosing Australia, further diminishing the country’s academic and cultural diversity. 

Taking action 

In response to this arbitrary and detrimental policy change, the QUT Guild, in collaboration with a dedicated group of engaged postgraduate students, prepared and submitted a letter to the government outlining concerns and calling for action. The Guild will also support all students who seek to obtain the evidence of completing their degree before 1 July deadline.  

Additionally, we encourage everyone to voice their opposition for the age limitation and to support a fair transition period for those who might be affected by the upcoming changes by signing a public petition.

The petition requests to introduce a transition period for international students who have already arrived and began their courses in Australia before the changes take effect. They should be allowed to apply for the Temporary Graduate visa streams up to the age of 50. The petition closes 12 June, so make sure you sign it today! 

Australia’s new age limit represents a short-sighted policy change with potentially severe consequences. It is imperative that the government reassesses this decision, considering the significant negative impact on international students and Australia’s future workforce. By addressing these issues promptly and thoughtfully, Australia can continue to uphold its esteemed position in the global academic community and ensure a fair and inclusive migration strategy. The Australian Government should, at the very least, ensure a fair transition period for those who have already invested significantly in Australia’s economy and society. 

Support the petition to advocate for fair treatment and secure a brighter future for all international graduates in Australia. 

QUT Student Guild
QUT Student Guild
Articles: 24

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