How can Australia rethink its migration programme to attract and retain skilled workers?
Throughout the years, Australia has welcomed millions of people from all corners of the world, each bringing their own unique culture and contributions to Australian society.
Australia is currently facing various labour and skills shortages with the aftermath of the pandemic and further to this, long visa processing times are potentially causing Australia to lose valuable talent to other countries.
Major shortage of skilled migrants
Earlier this month, many were reminded of these challenges when Australian politician and Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil called for a fundamental overhaul of the country’s migration policy. According to O’Neil, Australia’s migration system is broken, complex, un-strategic, expensive, and slow — not serving the best interests of migrants nor the nation’s future.
O’Neil has been a vocal advocate for reforming the migration system in Australia, which she believes is outdated and in need of significant changes. At present, she is calling for a more targeted approach to migration, with a focus on industries where there are skills shortages.
Highly-valued migrants that the world is fighting for today, face bureaucratic delays coming to Australia while receiving red-carpet treatment in other countries, she said during an AFR workforce summit in Sydney. Despite a national shortage of nurses, for example, it could take an overseas nurse up to three years and as much as $20,000 to have their qualifications recognised in Australia.
Since 2005, O’Neil explained, the number of net-skilled permanent migrants coming into Australia has stayed roughly the same — around 30,000 each year. Over the same period, however, the rate of issuing temporary visas skyrocketed. Today, Australia has around two million temporary visa holders, which is double the number in 2007. (This excludes visitors and people travelling through the country.) Having around two million temporary migrants in a national population of about 26 million has major implications for the country’s economy and workforce success. This shift in direction of the migration programme happened without strategic planning or serious public policy discussions, O’Neil said, continuing to question whether the large group of temporary migrants in Australia are driving the country forward with the skills and capabilities needed for the future.
The lingering effects of the pandemic
Travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic cost Australia more than 80,000 people, marking the country’s first net migration decline since World War II. The reopening of borders has instigated a necessary increase in migrant arrivals, and is set to continue growing this year.
With the ongoing effects of the pandemic on travel and employment patterns, however, it is estimated that Australia will lose close to half a million migrants by 2025/2026. Many experts on the subject are pointing fingers at Australia’s failure to provide sufficient financial support for international workers during the pandemic. Considering the Australian economy’s reliance on international skills and talent, it is even more crucial for the government to rethink its approach to attracting, managing, and retaining migrants — permanent and skilled migrants, in particular.
Tapping into the potential of international students
O’Neil also emphasised the need for the Australian government to present the country in a more desirable light to tap into the potential of international students. Many international students studying in Australia are effectively forced to leave and implement their skills and education elsewhere. Out of those who stay in the country, around 40% do not live up to their full potential because they end up in jobs they are overqualified for. According to O’Neil, this is partly due to Australia’s inefficient system for integrating graduates into the workforce.
At the moment, Australia is enjoying an influx of international students who are eager to travel and explore after the limitations of remote, online education during the pandemic. Australia is thus in a prime position to provide international students with more incentive to remain in the country and use their skills and youthful energy to positively contribute to the country’s economic growth.
What is the solution?
I believe Australia’s migration system needs to be reformed to strike a better balance between competing interests — the country’s multicultural identity and economic growth on the one hand, and, on the other, concerns over the impact of migration on housing, infrastructure, and wages along with the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
This could involve a range of measures, including increasing the capacity of the refugee intake programme, providing more support to refugees and asylum seekers once they arrive in Australia, and reforming the asylum process to make it more efficient and effective. By taking these steps, we can ensure that Australia remains a compassionate and welcoming country for those in need of protection.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is the impact of migration on housing and infrastructure. It is common knowledge that Australia is experiencing a rental housing crisis. The growing population is putting pressure on the availability and affordability of housing, as well as the quality of infrastructure. To address this, there is an urgent need for coordinated planning and investment, with a focus on ensuring that new arrivals can settle in areas where there is sufficient housing and infrastructure.
For interest’s sake, a new report published by UNSW Sydney outlines a comprehensive strategy for tackling the housing crisis in Australia. The report suggests a range of solutions to address the current housing crisis, including changes to zoning laws, increasing affordable housing supply, and introducing a rental subsidies program. The report also calls for greater investment in social housing and the implementation of policies to protect tenants from unfair eviction and rental increases. The authors argue that these measures are necessary to address the growing housing affordability problem in Australia, particularly in cities like Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
Finally, we need to recognise the importance of skilled migration to the Australian economy. Many industries, including healthcare, technology, and education, rely heavily on skilled migrants, and we need to ensure that the migration system can meet these labour market needs. This could involve targeted migration programs and increased support for migrants to help them find work in their field of expertise.
Need guidance with migrating to Australia? Claymore Thistle is a professional international relocation agency with years of experience in personal and corporate relocation.
Book a free consultation today to speak to one of our relocation experts.