The 'curse of 35' – migrants left in limbo after the new immigration reforms

I was struck with fear when I learned about the new immigration policy announced in early December because I might not have had the chance to practice journalism if I’d landed in Australia a few years later than I did.  

I was struck with fear when I learned about the new immigration policy announced in early December, because I might not have had the chance to practice journalism if I’d landed in Australia a few years later than I did.  

According to the Albanese Government's new plan, the age of eligibility for a temporary graduate visa (subclass 485) will be lowered from 50 to 35. That means a 31-year-old who enrolled in a 4-year university course will be unable to work in Australia after graduation and will be required to promptly pack up and leave. Likewise, someone who receives a PhD degree after 35 will be unable to demonstrate their expertise in this country.  

As a migrant in Australia, it is agonising to wait for the new immigration policy to be announced almost annually. Everyone who expects to live in Australia will get a taste of what it’s like to be dehumanised by a faceless bureaucracy.  

To be deemed a suitable cog in the machine for the labour market in Australia, migrants must spare no effort to satisfy the fickle and ever-changing needs of the Department of Home Affairs, which can be concentrated on a point chart reviewed by the department. 

This involves an ageist focus on youth (25-32), pricey tuition fees handed over to Australian institutions, a demonstration of near-native level English skills assessed in a test, and a stable and high-income local working experience. 

But ticking all these boxes doesn’t guarantee a permanent visa. The government emphasises the priorities of industries experiencing a labour shortage, but the standards of a migrant to be or not to be selected is always an unanswerable question.  

The only clear answer in recent years might be the one presented by former Prime Minister Scott Morrison as "time to go home" when the pandemic hit globally. During the dark time, migrants in Australia received not a penny of support from the government. About 85,000 more people left Australia than arrived in 2020-21 because of the border closure, and in the following financial year, the migration program was postponed for over three months. Migrants who stayed since then are left in limbo. 

The constantly changing bureaucracy turns the endeavour to permanently live in Australia into a Kafkaesque struggle for migrants onshore. I've witnessed many of my friends be forced to leave Australia, who had prepared for years but had to give up their lives here because their visas expired. 

Immigrating to another country is a life-altering decision requiring substantial investments of time and money, not to mention the emotional toll taken by leaving family and friends and dealing with the red tape of the system. And overturning this decision is heartbreaking, as it feels like a waste of life. What is even more heartbreaking is acknowledging that life after leaving can be gut-wrenchingly depressing. 

It is not fashionable a sentiment in Australian public life, but it is nonetheless true to say that most migrants are attracted to the so-called Aussie lifestyle, and they are eager to build up a life here and put tremendous effort into integrating into the community. 

In contrast to their countries of origin, many migrants appreciate the work-life balance in Australia and cherish an encouraging attitude that suggests it is never too late to start to live for yourself.  

Ironically, today, moving to Australia cannot help them escape the 'curse of 35', as the Australian government appears to mirror a similar mentality harboured in the tech sector in China. In the latter, the 'curse of 35' lingers as a modern folklore warning to workers aged 35 and above – they run the risk of being replaced by someone younger who is prepared to work for a lower salary. 

By cutting off the opportunity for migrants over the age of 35 to work in Australia, the chance for them to accumulate work experience for immigration is also extinguished. Even in this situation, the government still chooses to shift the blame to the visa applicants rather than the policymakers. 

When the Minister for Home Affairs criticises migrants for 'visa hopping', living in a 'permanently temporary' state in Australia, does the government truly not understand they are the architects of these conditions and they have never provided migrants with a guaranteed transitional arrangement? 

Nobody desires to endure perpetual uncertainty. Nobody opts for temporary visas when a long-term residency option is available. All the migrants onshore for years, deserve a clear and stable pathway to be eligible to stay in Australia permanently — the starting point for all Australians as part of an immigration nation.