Australia has locked the door to the outside world for over a year now, earning itself the ‘Hermit Nation’ tag. Across the world, life goes on as usual in most countries. What turned out to be misplaced arrogance on the part of Australian authorities has been the biggest mistake in living memory; namely, Australia was immune to the effects witnessed globally. While citizens bemoan the locked borders, out of public sight are thousands of recently graduated international students who returned home in the early months of the pandemic. Now, more than 18 months on, the clock has run down on their visas and extinguished their rights to live and work in Australia.
The 485-Visa, i.e., the temporary graduate visa that allows international students to work in Australia for 2-years post-graduation, costs about $1680. For the recipients, it provides a chance to gain some invaluable work experience. However, for many, it is a pathway to permanent residency. This alone entices many students to pay fees of up to $60,000. However, in recent times this opportunity has been criticised and is under review.
The Department of Home Affairs figures state that there are 13,150 graduates on temporary graduate (485) visas now that remain outside Australia. The authorities appear to lack empathy for those who find themselves in financial distress after their families took out loans to pay for their studies. These loans were based on the prospect of an Australian job. Now those opportunities are in danger as visas run out and renewals are refused. The federal government has ignored pleas to freeze or extend 485 visas, especially as priority remains for the 46,500 Australians stranded abroad. While Immigration Minister Alex Hawke gave a strong indication that an announcement was on the horizon in the coming months, this is too little too late for many.
Labor MP Julian Hill, a former Executive Director of International Education within the Victorian government, said Australia should honour its promises to the graduates; however, this was ignored by his cabinet colleagues. While Phil Honeywood, Chief Executive of the International Education Association of Australia, said bodies have been lobbying on student visa reform for over a year now. Both Hill and Honeywood echo the sentiment that Australia’s reputation is on the line here as a student destination. Quite rightly too.
Reports in other media channels suggest this is the opportunity Australia has been looking for; to quell the number of graduate visas it gives annually. But, with many Australians returning home, there is a sentiment that the economy and job prospects will be fragile into 2023. This reflects growing xenophobia in some Australian states. The result is that the cries from visa holders are falling on deaf and or indifferent ears.
While many may never return to Australia, there is a hope the government makes an exception and extends or renews visas. Otherwise, a legacy of debt will follow thousands of graduates.