The struggles of staying after your student visa

May 29, 2017
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We all know our problems don’t just magically vanish after graduating. For most of us, we’re still figuring out which career to pursue, even after three years or so at uni (guilty as charged).

For many international students, there is also the pressing question as graduation inches closer: what do I do when my student visa expires? Do I extend it? Or am I ready to bid Australia goodbye? These are the obstacles international students commonly face after graduating.

Not enough job prospects

International student Sue Huynh* had her TR approved, thereby granting her two extra years in Australia post-graduation. Yet, she found herself booking a plane ride home, despite the money and time spent on settling visa paperworks.

“The trigger for me was the feeling of zero progress. It’s been four months, and I’ve had enough of constant job-searching with no results,” she admits. While universities claim high employability rates for international students, it’s not always that easy.

Uncertainty about visa changes

In light of the future abolishment of Visa 457 – Temporary Work (Skilled) Visa, Sue says it has caused many unconfirmed changes to the Skilled Occupation List (SOL).

“I’m being told different opinions that, as an accountant, I’m increasingly becoming redundant in the country,” she says.

Although Sue is not one of them, there have been cases where students only pick academic and career pathways aligned with the SOL list.

“The issue with that is that it changes all the time. The scoring threshold for accountancy, specifically, increases yearly. Along with the decreasing capacity, you’d have to be exceptional to be invited for a PR status,” explains Kevin Hong*, who’s since graduated and has started working overseas.

Unlike locals, international students, especially Asian students, did not start working early. Most of us were told to completely focus on our studies when still schooling, whereas it’s common for locals to start working at 14.

Not enough work experience

Sue and Jennifer Yen*, who are both in their last semester at uni, feel the lack of local experience is the biggest factor of unemployment amongst international students.

“You need experience for everything! Sometimes, years of experience – even for entry-level jobs,” says Jennifer.

“Unlike locals, international students, especially Asian students, did not start working early. Most of us were told to completely focus on our studies when still schooling, whereas it’s common for locals to start working at 14. These skills ultimately equip you to work in the Australian market,” Jennifer adds.

The issue of Permanent Residency status and citizenship

Although sometimes this is understandable, another factor of unemployment amongst international students is the PR and citizen criteria when applying for a job.

“You read through the job description thinking you’re right for this role, and bam – PR or citizen, and you’re out,” Jennifer says.

Kevin adds that international students are prioritised lowest when it comes to recruitment, as Australian employers are either unaware or unwilling to familiarise themselves with the migration processes. This ultimately creates a death loop – you don’t get hired and thus, can’t gain any experience, but you need experience to be hired anywhere.

You read through the job description thinking you’re right for this role, and bam – PR or citizen, and you’re out.

Expectations vs reality

“Truthfully, graduating from a top university and still not getting anywhere is a blow to your pride,” Sue admits. Jennifer has also seen many of her friends go through the same thing, and is already preparing herself for it.

All of this might seem dim for international students searching for a job to settle in Australia, but Div Patani*, who’s juggling two-part time jobs, weighs in on what international students have the upper hand on: multiculturalism.

“Usually, international students are of different backgrounds and are multilingual.” Although she agrees it isn’t easy for international students to break out into the Australian market, she believe it’s not impossible.

“It was the combination of tireless job-searching and networking which did it for me,” she says, “I still think passion outweighs almost any other personality characteristics recruiters might be on the lookout for.”

One thing’s for certain – for international students, finding a job is a full-time job in itself.

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*Names have been changed for privacy.

Sarah Leow

Sarah loves to eat and is already thinking about breakfast when she goes to bed. She's a recent psych major graduate from the University of Melbourne.

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