University rankings
Global university rankings implicitly reproduce the belief that wealthy, inequitable institutions should be replicated. . Source: Drew Angerer/AFP

From Switzerland to Australia, Germany to Canada, policymakers see benefit in the retention of highly-skilled international graduates, but political opinions differ on the best way to do this. These opposing policy viewpoints are affecting post-study work rights for international students at these main English-speaking study abroad destinations.

The Global Perspectives on International Student Employability report compared post-study work rights around the world, identifying common interests and tensions occurring in these nations.

Among those with ‘open-arm’ policies are countries like New Zealand and Canada, which the comparison table below show to have the most favourable post-study work rights among the countries reviewed.

Attraction Ranking In-Study
Work (Years)
Study (Years)
New Zealand Yes 1–3 1 3 3 3
Canada Yes 3 2 3 3 3
Australia Yes 2–4 2 2 2 4
Germany Yes 1.5 n/a 1.5 1.5 1.5
United States Yes 1* 1 1 1 1
Netherlands Yes 1 1 1 1 1
Ireland Yes 0.5–2 2 0.5–1 2 2
Sweden Yes 0.5 1 0.5 0.5 0.5
United Kingdom Yes 0.3–1 1 0.3 0.3–0.5 1

The European Union, the largest receiving market of international students, has a “firm, open-door stance” to welcome and retain students and researchers from outside the EU. Council
Directive 2016/801/EC, 2017 also increased the number of hours of work allowed during study from 10 to 15 hours per week to assist with their living expenses, as well as setting a nine-month period to allow graduates to seek work or start a business.

Other countries are more divided on how to attract and retain talent. The main point of contention is this: most policymakers are aware that post-study work rights are attractive and necessary for them to attract the best talent to their country. However, they are concerned about the impact this would bring to the “integrity and sustainability” of their labour markets and education systems.

This could explain why, despite the majority of international students (60-80 percent) stating their wish to work in their host country after graduating, according to surveys by the international education sector, there is a “sizeable gap” between this demand and reality. In OECD countries, only one in four international graduates in OECD countries stay long-term.

“The sizeable gap between student intent and graduate uptake is akin to the gap between political rhetoric and hard evidence on student behaviours in some markets,” said the report.

The review by the International Education Association of Australia was released as countries like Denmark and the United Kingdom see their policies on retaining international graduates backfire or cause a loss of enrolment and revenue.

Lead author Brett Berquist told The PIE News there were similar levels of public support for post-study work rights, but political rhetoric remained a substantial barrier.

“It’s not so much the variation among the policy wonks, but the way the elected officials are playing [the benefits or perceived downside of graduate employment] for their gain in terms of the polling,” he said.

Push for STEM graduates and move to regional cities 

One of the more effective methods of balancing foreign enrolment while placating local labour market demands is the favouring of STEM over non-STEM graduates. Common among many of these countries, the former is usually given more time to work in host countries over those with general studies qualifications.

Graduates arrive for the Hunter College Commencement ceremony at Madison Square Garden, May 29, 2019 in New York City. Source: Drew Angerer/AFP

In Australia, Canada and New Zealand, policies have developed to incentivise international students to study and work in regional cities. In a bid to balance the concentration of international students in major metropolitan areas, Canada has developed regional retention policies while Australia and New Zealand offer bonus points in skilled migration and/or post-study work rights (PSWR).

Similarly, the US is experiencing an uneven distribution of international graduates in its metro areas. Referring to the Pew Research Center’s online tool, the report notes there are regional relocations happening through the Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme, which means foreign graduates may seek temporary work anywhere in the country in a field directly related to their area of study.

The Seattle metro area, for example, both educates and employs a large number of international graduates – more than four in five (84 percent) stayed post-graduation. Conversely, among international graduates from colleges and universities located in the Buffalo, New York metro area, only 25 percent stayed. The rest left for other metro areas, particularly New York City and San Jose, California.

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