A strong migration program that entices skilled migrants to Australia with permanent residency incentives will position Australia as the go-to place to live and work, solve our talent crunch and future-proof our economy.
That’s the opinion of The Migration Agency’s Managing Director and immigration expert, Sarah Thapa.
It’s also a sentiment shared by Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industries chief executive, Andrew McKellar, who is also calling for stronger migration policies to fill the gaps in the Australian job market.
Sarah says Australia needs to become a more attractive destination for skilled migrants with globally competitive permanent residency pathways.
“Businesses can’t be successful unless they have the right people available to them when they need them, which is why policy needs to change now to open up access to international talent,” she says.
“In the global war for talent, there is a risk that international talent are not prioritising Australia as a first choice because they may not have access to permanent residency unlike countries like UK or Canada.”
In this blog, we look at how to attract the world’s best and brightest global talent to our shores and the current permanent residency pathways.
Why would international talent come to Australia?
Australia offers a world of opportunities for global talent and is an attractive destination for them to settle. In turn, we can close the skills shortages gaps and allow the country to prosper with a stronger economy, innovation and diversity.
Unfortunately, the 2018 overhaul of the subclass 457 visa has created a “permanent temporary class of people”.
The majority of global talent in highly skilled professional occupations are on temporary working visas, which means they can’t access permanent residency in Australia, despite making a valuable contribution, setting up their families and even creating jobs for other Australians.
In our experience at The Migration Agency, we are now seeing companies unable to retain skilled workers because many are on temporary visas that only allow them to stay in the country for 2+2 years, or a maximum of four years.
Sarah says it is creating a lot of uncertainty and stress for businesses, skilled international talent and the economy, especially as the 4-year mark approaches (from when the temporary work visa rules were reformed in 2018).
“This scenario doesn’t make Australia attractive to the world’s best and brightest. Why would a data scientist, a clinical research associate or an IT project manager come here when they can only stay for four years on a temporary work visa? Many highly skilled occupations like these are on the short term occupation list and offer a 2-year visa. If a review and reforms to our permanent residency pathways don’t happen in the next 12 months, Australia will face a massive employment and economic crisis. (link to election blog)
Barriers are hindering efforts to employ global talent
Meanwhile, there are still significant barriers for organisations who need international talent in Australia to fill skills shortages. The rules for migration for companies are more complex than ever – and became even more complicated during Covid when additional measures around labour market testing were introduced.
“It’s important that skilled migration doesn’t substitute for a thriving domestic labour market, however, organisations are dealing with occupations with critical skills shortages especially after the exodus of temporary visa holders during the pandemic,” Sarah says.
She says skilled migrants are not looking on the government’s Job Active website for job listings, making this additional labour market testing requirement ineffective and burdensome. A new strategy is needed to make it easy for companies to find and secure global talent, incorporating suitable labour market tests, but without the unnecessary obstacles many have faced.
“Pushing companies to advertise on a government platform, which is frequently out of action, and making the process so complicated, isn’t serving anyone. We need to find a way to reduce the red tape and still ensure there is integrity to the program and measures in place to protect Australia’s labour market, but not put up barriers for companies who desperately need international talent now to address the skills shortages,” she says.
Australia needs a market-driven migration program with a salary threshold
The current two-tiered temporary work visa program – comprising the Medium and Long-term Strategic Skills List (MTLSSL) and the Short-term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) – is creating unnecessary tension for employers, and a disincentive for global talent to come to our shores.
The vast majority of occupations that businesses need to sponsor are on the STSOL, and don’t have a permanent residency pathway.
“The temporary employer sponsored migration program as it stands isn’t meeting the needs of the business community or the economy, and we need to reduce restrictions on skilled migration to support population growth and also fill the skills gaps,” Sarah says.
There have been many recommendations made in the past about Australia’s permanent employer sponsored migration program, one of which included a salary threshold.
“Australia needs a market-driven program where permanent residency is available for eligible organisations hiring global talent in highly skilled positions above a certain salary threshold,” Sarah says.
“A salary threshold would allow highly skilled professional workers earning over a certain salary, for example, $65,000. Let’s deem them highly skilled and allow them a permanent residency pathway. New Zealand offers permanent residency for all employer-sponsored visa holders. This would be another option for Australia, to allow the market to determine whether a worker should be retained on a permanent basis.
“A reform is needed now, otherwise we will lose thousands of skilled temporary workers because their visas have expired and they can’t get permanent residency.”
While the government has introduced new measures to reward skilled international talent who stayed in Australia during the pandemic and worked in occupations on the STSOL, it is a short-term solution to the skills shortages crisis.
Australia’s current permanent residency pathways
Australia’s permanent residency pathways currently include:
- Employer Nomination Scheme (subclass 186) visa: This is a market-driven program and is the largest portion of skilled permanent visa holders. This visa allows skilled international talent to live and work in Australia permanently with the nomination of their employer.
- Global Talent Independent program (GTI): With a “use it or lose it” policy, the program is for highly skilled professionals and exceptional talent to work and live permanently in Australia. This is a fast-tracked permanent residency pathway where the visa-holder’s family can also get permanent residency.
- General Skilled Migration pathway: The visas in this stream are permanent (or lead to permanent residency) and are not connected to employment. They are invitation only and this stream has been in decline for some time.
- Other categories: The other pathways to permanent residency include Family and Humanitarian visas.
If you are an organisation or individual and you need immigration support, please get in touch with our highly skilled people at The Migration Agency. We are here to serve and care for you.