THE Gillard government will expand work rights for international students next year, overriding union protests and fuelling the furore over foreigners filling Australian jobs. All foreign students will be eligible for work visas lasting two to four years after they graduate from an Australian university, under relaxed immigration rules resisted by the ACTU and the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union.

Visa holders will need “competent English” and health insurance, and must pass health, character and security requirements. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the expansion of the Skilled Graduate visa scheme would “help to enhance the competitiveness” of Australia’s $18 billion inbound student industry.

It would potentially allow all 220,000 foreign university students in Australia to work in any job once they graduate.

The existing system is restricted to graduates who have studied for a skilled occupation — including the trades, medicine, engineering, architecture, accounting and teaching — who may work for up to 18 months.

Other international students must leave Australia within a month of graduation.

But from next year visas will be granted to all graduates, regardless of their field of study.

And the 18-month time limit will be stretched to two years for graduates with a bachelor degree, three years for a master’s degree and four years for a doctorate.

“These arrangements are not linked to skilled migration so applicants for this visa would not be required to nominate an occupation on the skilled occupation list or undertake a skills assessment,” a spokeswoman for Mr Bowen said. “The government will reserve the capacity to modify arrangements in future according to economic and employment circumstances.”

Under the existing scheme, work visas were issued to 24,359 students in the nine months to March — an 85 per cent surge in the space of a year.

The ACTU and CFMEU lobbied the Immigration Department last year against expanding student work permits. The CFMEU sought a cap on the number of visas granted in certain trades, as well as general cuts in times of high unemployment.

CFMEU construction division national secretary Dave Noonan attacked the expansion.

“There are some very serious job losses in the construction industry in the capital cities at the moment,” he said. “There is already some significant exploitation of workers under student visas and this will probably see that increase.” A “huge amount of rorting” was going on and students were paid under-award wages.

“I don’t think a system with loopholes and unscrupulous employers ripping off people under student visas is going to do anything to encourage a quality higher-education sector,” he said.

Source : The Australian