Australia’s recent Jobs and Skills Summit has come at an extraordinary time for the nation’s economy.
The country faces record-low unemployment and skills shortages across multiple industries.
There is almost unprecedented agreement from the business community, unions and the Government that boosting skilled migration is essential for plugging Australia’s talent gap.
The challenge, however, is how best to get there.
Here at The Migration Agency, we believe the Summit represented a not-to-be-missed opportunity to discuss genuine reform in Australia’s approach to immigration.
On the surface, we are pleased to see several key outcomes from the Summit, including:
- Increasing the permanent migration program level to 195,000.
- Adding two years of post-study work rights for recent graduates in areas of skills shortages and
- Additional funding to speed up visa processing and resolve backlogs.
However, tinkering at some of the existing settings won’t be enough. Australia’s current immigration program is not fit for purpose.
This Summit should have been a turning point and an opportunity for Government and industry to completely rethink Australia’s approach.
And whilst the Summit didn’t serve up this hoped rethink, there was a commitment that the ‘Government will conduct a review of the purpose, structure and objectives of Australia’s migration system to ensure it meets the challenges of the coming decade.’
Over the weeks ahead, we will be looking to see what this promised review means and whether it might deliver the changes we need to immigration.
From bureaucratic bottlenecks to narrow pathways to residency, numerous obstacles in the existing system either slow down or disincentivise talent from coming to this country.
When it comes to immigration, we need to look at how we compare internationally and what our competitors are doing.
Most importantly, given recent changes in job mobility, how will immigration respond to the future demands of business and the workforce?
We need a more flexible and dynamic system that caters to the future of work.
Indeed, the last thing we need is more roadblocks preventing individuals or businesses from bringing the best people to this country.
Time for visa reform
Reforming Australia’s visa occupation lists needs to be a key focus of the promised review of the migration system.
In 2018 the overhaul of the 457-visa system saw the introduction of the 482-visa and its corresponding short and long-term visa occupation lists.
These lists haven’t been updated as frequently as initially promised and are thoroughly inadequate when applied to numerous industries.
Another concern is that residency pathways are only open to those on the longer-term visa list. This fact alone inhibits our ability to attract the best people in a highly competitive global talent environment.
The short-term list creates a cycle of perpetual temporary residence for visa holders, many of whom businesses would prefer to retain for the long term.
Not only do we need to revisit these occupation lists, but we need to ask if they are still relevant.
In our modern world of dynamic career movement, we need to look at other criteria such as skill levels or salary thresholds.
We need a culture shift
For many years, we have seen the level of engagement with business and individuals decline and the Department of Home Affairs has become a face-less agency mostly dedicated to border control rather than mobility of talent.
To realise the vision of Australia being a prime destination for global business and talent, there needs to be a shift of culture within the Department of Home Affairs towards a more constructive and collaborative approach with its clients.
The promised migration system review should address how to improve the working relationship between Home Affairs, business, and industry.
For too long, visa applicants have been treated with suspicion, as numbers in a system rather than clients. Immigration has almost become adversarial, and if a person wants to discuss their application, there is virtually no one they can talk with.
The vast majority of visa applicants are tourists, students, holiday makers and workers who will benefit Australia, a more open and transparent culture within the Department will facilitate better business and economic outcomes.
What was the Summit all about
The stated goal of the two-day Jobs and Skills Summit was to find common ground on how Australia can build a bigger, better trained and more productive workforce. The Summit also looked at how to boost real wages and living standards.
Held in Canberra on the 1st and 2nd of September, the Summit included over 100 invited guests representing employers, the Government, unions, industry, community, education, social service and employment sectors.
In addition, the Summit focused on women’s experiences in the labour market and ensuring women have equal opportunities and pay.
The Summit discussed five significant themes:
- Maintaining full employment and growing productivity.
- Boosting job security and wages.
- Lifting participation and reducing barriers to employment.
- Delivering opportunities in the industries of the future.
An issues paper was produced covering the labour market challenges behind each theme area.
After the Summit, an outcomes paper was released detailing immediate actions and areas of ongoing work.
The Migration Agency is pleased to see immediate recommendations from the Summit, and the fact the whole migration system is set for review is also encouraging.
We must move away from a short-term, ad hoc approach to migration and toward a long-term, planned system focusing on visas that offer more pathways to permanent migration. If we can do this whilst considering population growth and how to best plan for housing, transport, education, and health services, we may get the balance just about right.
If you would like to discuss how your business can utilise immigration to address critical skills shortages, please get in touch with us.