Staying on after your studies: avoiding the pitfalls

by Tim McDonald & Anne O'Donoghue

One advantage of studying in Australia is that after you finish your degree, you may be eligible to apply for permanent residency through one of several visa categories.

If graduates return home, they can apply from offshore for the appropriate skilled migration visa. But applying from onshore is usually a better option, because graduating students may be eligible to apply for one of three visa categories specifically set up to help them remain in Australia after they graduate:

Skilled - Independent Overseas Student
Skilled - designated Area sponsored Overseas Student
Skilled - Australian sponsored Overseas student

All of these visa categories enable students to secure permanent residency, should they satisfy the fairly rigorous core criteria and points test. The advantage of applying onshore is that students may substitute their degree for the experience required in the core criteria of offshore skilled visas.

But in spite of the advantages graduate visas offer, students often make mistakes when trying to switch from their student visas to permanent residency. The problems usually come up when students are on bridging visas, because of confusion about what these visas entitle the holder to do.

Bridging visa blues

Often, when students apply for graduate visas, they need time to prepare the relevant documentation to lodge their application. To this end, they acquire a bridging Graduate Skilled Temporary Visa (Class UQ, subclass 497), which allows them six months to prepare their application.

While the Department of Immigration's guide makes it clear that applicants "must by law, lodge their application" within six months, it is hazy on when the six-month period begins.

In fact, the six-month period begins when the applicant first lodges his application, not when he receives his visa. Because the visa can take as long as four months to process, the applicants may only have a few months in which to lodge his application, while thinking he has six months.

This confusion can land an application in the rubbish bin, and set the applicant back to square one.

Working worries

When applying onshore for a graduate visa, it is not necessary to demonstrate relevant work experience as part of the core criteria. However, experience can make the difference on the points test for marginal applicants, especially since Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock last year increased the pass mark from 110 to 115.

However, in order to gain these extra points, applicants may not use any experience that is not gained "legally", by which the immigration department means gained on a substantive visa.

This is potentially confusing, because people on the graduate bridging visa are, in fact, allowed to work. But because the visa is not substantive, the work cannot count for the purpose of the points test.

Thus some applicants might go through the trouble and of lodging an application when they really have very little chance of success.

For these reasons, it is often advisable to consult with a competent immigration lawyer before lodging a graduate skilled application. Changes to Skilled Migration from 1 July 2003 hyperlink to


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