A group of mayors has joined forces with the country’s elite universities to call on the government to extend the work rights of all international students, allowing them to stay for an extra two years and help fill skills shortages.
Labor last week announced it would extend work rights from two to four years for international students after they graduated, but only for those who studied nursing, teaching, IT and engineering.
However, the Group of Eight universities and the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors on Thursday called for working rights to be extended across the board for international students.
Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson said there was enormous appetite internationally to study and work in Australia, and the government needed to seize the opportunity rather than see students turn to countries with more attractive visas and work rights. “We can’t ignore the international competition for talent, with governments in the UK and US pulling policy levers to attract academic and research leaders in areas critical to economic growth,” she said.
The group is also advocating for a new visa class to be created that would offer talented international student graduates pathways for permanency in Australia.
“The government’s changes to post-study work rights combined with a high-potential individual visa to target high-achieving graduates will strengthen Australia’s pipeline of skilled labour, boost productivity and our economic prosperity,” Ms Thomson said.
Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp said keeping international students in Australia post-study would be a short-term solution to the crippling skills crisis.
“We are acutely aware of the labour shortages in our country,” Ms Capp said. “Keeping international students here post-study would be an immediate boost to available labour for critical jobs in key sectors.”
Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore said it was critical that Australia “reclaimed its reputation” as a destination of choice for international students.
“By providing students with the opportunity to stay here once their studies are over – to use their skills and expertise to gain meaningful employment – we will not only attract more international students, we‘ll help meet our labour market needs,” Ms Moore said.
“Economically, attracting more international students encourages growth in our education sector, which is one of our largest export earning industries.
“Growing our population also creates more customers, resulting in higher consumption growth, which we need after our nation’s borders were closed for so long.”
The move follows industries such as tourism warning the government not to reinstate caps on working hours for international students and instead allowing them to work as much as they wanted while the skills shortage crisis remained.