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Skilled migrant policies under fire

17 January 20170 comments

Australia needs to completely revamp its skilled migrant policies and offer more opportunities for permanent migration, according to a new analysis.

The nation should completely rethink the way overseas worker arrivals and numbers are regulated – and just cutting back is not an option, according to associate law professor Joanna Howe from the University of Adelaide.

Prof Joanna Howe

Prof Howe says that for too long migration policy has focused on temporary workers being recruited to fulfil specific areas where jobs shortages are perceived.

She says permanent labour migration is preferable to the issuing of temporary visas in terms of recognising migrants’ contributions and protecting their workplace rights.

Prof Howe says the current system needs to be more transparent and efficient.

“Given the importance of labour migration to Australia’s economic success and social cohesion, it is vital that we get right the regulation of this complex phenomenon,” she said in the report published by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).

Prof Howe said that the public ought to back government policies regarding visa regulation but currently the system was “cloaked in secrecy, complexity and a lack of transparency and accountability”.

She said the 457 visa, widely regarded as the mainstay of Australia’s labour migration program which allows workers to work in the country for up to four years in areas where there are skill shortages, is defective because it lets employers decide which occupations have shortages.

She said that as long as an occupation is listed on the Consolidated Sponsored Occupation List (CSOL) and a 457 visa holder is paid a higher annual wage than the minimum amount for temporary skilled migrants, an employer is able to access a 457 visa holder.

She also pointed out that the CSOL is not an occupational shortage list and it actually includes over 600 occupations, many of which are not facing shortages.

“Diehard defenders of the status quo will point to the introduction of employer conducted labour market testing in 2013 as evidence of a requirement that employers need to first advertise jobs locally before hiring a 457 visa holder,” Prof Howe’s report said.

“However, when one realises that a simple Facebook advertisement suffices to meet the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s (DIBP) very low evidentiary requirement, it becomes clear that employer conducted labour market testing is both weakly enforced and easily evaded,” it said.

A number of significant reviews of the 457 visa program have called for greater limits on employer demand and Prof Howe says that the ‘simplistic notion’ that employers will only go to the trouble and expense of employing a migrant worker when they want to meet a skill shortage skims over a range of motives an employer may have for employing a migrant worker.

“These could be a reluctance to invest in training for existing or prospective staff, a desire to move towards a de-unionised workforce or, for a (perhaps small) minority of employers, a belief that it is easier to avoid paying minimum wage rates and conditions for temporary migrant workers,” she said.

Prof Howe recommended that the Australian Government consider establishing a tripartite, independent commission charged with the compilation of the occupational shortage list for the 457 visa program, which could use an evidence based approach to identify Australia’s labour market needs in a timely, efficient and transparent manner.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist