The Australian Government is in the process of a comprehensive review of our migration system. The goal is to develop a new strategy that better complements the skills of Australian workers and caters to the needs of business.
This review will establish the principles that will guide our migration system in the future. The focus is enhancing productivity. As such, the outcomes of this review will have substantial and hopefully, positive consequences for Australian businesses.
What’s the crux?
The Government recognises that Australia is facing an ageing population, weak productivity and slowing population growth, against a backdrop of increasing geopolitical uncertainty. Our businesses are suffering from worker shortages and the economy is hamstrung by limited innovation. We are also increasingly competing with other OECD countries for skilled and talented migrants.
In 2019, The Migrant Workers’ Taskforce found that a significant portion of our temporary migrant workforce was being exploited. Equal treatment of migrants in the workforce is necessary for a healthy country and economy.
The goal of the review is to ensure that our migration system is simple, efficient, fair and enhances Australia’s competitiveness.
Key issues for Australian businesses
So, what does this mean for companies and business owners?
Australia’s skills shortage is exacerbated by a complicated visa program that is currently not fit for purpose. The program is structured by occupation, which is not an accurate reflection of the required skills or how roles are configured in a changing workforce (especially in highly dynamic fields such as IT). Businesses considering international talent frequently find themselves asking: what visa do I apply for? For which occupation? For how long?
A more dynamic system would also ensure faster processing times. Many applicants are waiting for months or years to receive visa approval.
A long-term view
Businesses would benefit from a visa program that allows the candidate to remain in Australia for longer than two years. This would ensure a better return on investment and workplace continuity.
The review recognises that one of the problems is the common lack of a pathway from temporary to permanent migration. After considerable investment, companies often want to secure their talent permanently. This would also provide an incentive for talented people overseas looking to permanently migrate and contribute their skills in the longer term.
It is difficult to attract migrants to work outside of big cities. Regional businesses, who have a special visa class, would benefit from a simplified system and increased concessions.
As well as sourcing international talent, a better migration system would allow Australian companies to move talent within their business. This would create a better planned workforce and enable team continuity.
Improved administrative handling
Currently, Australia has a visa subclass targeted at business innovation and investment (Subclass 188). It is specifically for people bringing in capital and expertise, in order to start a business. However, this visa subclass is currently closed and many clients continue to wait for an outcome which is a major impediment to investment. This is also despite the States and Territories actively working to attract investment into Australia.
The Australian Government also introduced the Skilling Australia Fund in 2017 – a program designed to ensure businesses that benefit from employing migrants are also contributing towards the skilling of Australians. Since 2017, the Fund has provided over $854 million to projects that have supported apprenticeships, traineeships, and other employment-related training activities.
However currently, the process to get a refund from the fund is extremely limited. For example, if a nomination is refused due to Departmental error or discretion, or a business loses their candidate, the business is not able to claim a refund.
If clunky mechanisms such as these were smoothed out, businesses would be able to access international talent much easier and in doing so, reach their full potential.
If you’d like to learn more, read the plainly written 12-page A Migration System for Australia’s Future. This discussion paper outlines some of the issues and proposes aims for the review.
The Migration Agency can help you navigate the migration system and provide creative solutions. We also continue to advocate on behalf of businesses, for a fairer and more innovative migration system that benefits our people and economy.