14,000 skilled graduates will be stuck outside Australia for another year due to visa rules – SBS News

December 19, 2021 by No Comments

Despite Australia’s borders opening to international students on Wednesday, thousands of skilled graduates who qualify to work in Australia are not being allowed back into the country until late next year.
Sapna Verma, whose Temporary Graduate visa has expired, feels the Australian government is not treating her fairly. Source: Supplied
Sapna Verma came to Australia with big hopes.
An Indian national from Ludhiana, Punjab, Ms Verma wanted to study and work in Australia.
Her mother – a single parent – spent more than $80,000 so she could complete her Bachelor of Information Technology degree at Victoria's Deakin University.
But when Ms Verma finished her studies in 2019 and was entitled to work in Australia for the following two years, she couldn’t due to the pandemic.
“I wanted to spend some time with my mother since she’s a single parent and most of the time she’s alone,” says Ms Verma, who travelled to India in March 2020.
“And then, unfortunately, I got stuck here.” 
With Australia's international borders closed to everyone other than citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families up until now, Ms Verma hasn’t been able to return since, and her Temporary Graduate visa (subclass 485), which would have allowed her to work in Australia for two years on the basis of her bachelor’s degree, has expired.
While Immigration Minister Alex Hawke recently announced “Temporary Graduate visa holders who lost time in Australia due to travel restrictions … will now have the opportunity to apply for another subclass 485 visa”, they won’t actually be able to do so until 1 July 2022.
And Ms Verma's not happy about it.
“We’ve already waited 21 months … we’ve wasted 21 months of our lives and we’re being asked to wait for another eight to nine months just to apply for the visa and then it might take another few months for processing times,” she says.
And she’s not alone. About 30,000 former international students of Australia either hold or have held a Temporary Graduate visa in the past two years. Of that number, about 14,000 people are stuck overseas.
“That’ll be a total of three years wasted of thousands of people’s lives and that’s not fair. It’s really frustrating because time is money and you only live once and imagine that someone steals three years of your life. That’s like a huge, huge deal,” Ms Verma says.
“We cannot do anything about the time that has already passed but the government can let us come back [as soon as] the borders open.”
International students and some skilled workers on certain visas are allowed to come into Australia from Wednesday without needing a travel exemption.
The Greens’ spokesman for immigration and justice Nick McKim sent a letter to Mr Hawke on 30 November, questioning “why the date has been set at 1 July 2022, and why the government has not prioritised the return of this group of people”.
“I haven’t yet received a response from the minister and that is very disappointing,” Senator McKim says.
“There are over 30,000 people who held Temporary Graduate 485 visas, who have been stuck in limbo through no fault of their own. It’s a large number of people and the minister should be really focussed on making sure that he treats these people fairly and that he treats them with dignity and respect.”
SBS News contacted Mr Hawke's office for comment and was referred to the Department of Home Affairs.
“The replacement Temporary Graduate visa will be implemented from 1 July 2022 as it requires an amendment to the Migration Regulations 1994. Information and communications technology changes are also required to give effect to the replacement Temporary Graduate visa,” a department spokesperson said. 
Senator McKim says that response is not good enough.
“Failure to process visa applications in a timely way across a range of visa classes is a historical problem that Home Affairs has faced and minister after minister has failed to get on top of this issue.”
“Whether it’s family reunion visas, 485 Bridging visa Bs, humanitarian visas for refugees … The visa processing times are far, far too long in the department and the minister needs to get on top of this problem because it’s affecting a lot of people.”
The fee to reapply for the 485 visa, $1,680, is also a cause of frustration.
“My [Temporary Graduate] visa was granted in December 2019 and I used it for only two months,” says Gaurav Baral from Butwal, Nepal, who spent more than $40,000 to complete his Master of Professional Accounting at Holmes Institute, Sydney.
“If I have to apply again, then again I have to pay $1,680, which is really a financial burden because we have no income, we have been stuck since 21 months.”
Senator McKim says the government should not be charging a reapplication fee for the visa. 
“There’s no good reason why [the visa holders] should have to pay for a new visa given that they were unable to utilise their previous visa through no fault of their own,” he says.
“If someone cannot go to a music concert or a major sporting event, through no fault of their own, because the event is cancelled, they’ll either get a refund or they’ll get a ticket to the next event for free,” he says.
“And that’s what should happen for 485 visa holders. They either should have the original fee refunded or they should be able to reply for a visa free of charge.”
Australia’s failure to expedite the processing times for the visa is also not helping the country’s skilled workforce shortage, says Australian demographer Liz Allen.
“There’s undeniably an acute shortage of skills in Australia.” 
“If we look at data concerning projections of Australia’s workforce needs, Australia requires more than the local population can contribute … we’re talking about 500,000 people each year for the next little while.”
There is currently a race among some of the world's developed nations to attract international students.
“International education is very competitive and competing nations like the US, the UK and Canada are taking advantage of this moment in time – their borders are not shut,” says Catriona Jackson, chief executive of Universities Australia.
And, says Senator McKim, the 485 visa delays are not helping.
“This is having a big effect on Australia’s reputation internationally. We’re aware of a number of people who’ve simply given up on Australia and they’ve made a decision to go elsewhere to finish their degrees, to do graduate studies or to work.” 
“That’s a real shame for Australia because we used to have a very well-deserved reputation as being a welcoming country and a good country for people around the world to come to [in order] to study and live and work.
“And I am afraid that reputation’s been dented by the way that we’ve treated not just 485 visa holders but a range of visa classes throughout the pandemic.”
“Most of my cousins are going to Canada and the UK,” Ms Verma says.
“They were also stuck overseas but they got visa extensions. That makes me feel jealous.”
If she had chosen “another country, she would have been in better hands,” she says. 
“A lot of my juniors [in India] who have recently graduated from high school ask me whether [or not] they should choose Australia for their higher education, and I don’t know what to tell them.”
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