Govt backs significant skilled migration overhaul

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The federal government has backed a significant overhaul of Australia’s skilled migration system, with a Liberal-led committee calling for a new skills shortage list, a dynamic workforce plan and better options for permanent residency.

The Joint Standing Committee on Migration, chaired by Liberal MP Julian Leeser tabled its report on Australia’s skilled migration program on Monday afternoon.

The committee report found that the pause in skilled migration due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity to re-examine the program, with recommendations including a new occupation and skills identification system to replace the “severely outdated” current list, improved visa processing and customer service, and exemptions to allow for intra-company transfers of executives at large companies to Australia.

In additional comments, the participating Labor Senators labelled the report a “missed opportunity” comprising “reactive, piecemeal administrative tinkering”, while the Greens provided a dissenting report.

Visa Outsourcing plan
Australia’s skilled migration looks set for an overhaul

The federal government should develop a dynamic national workforce plan to coordinate the efforts of Australian governments to ensure the “persistent skills shortages and future workforce needs” are addressed through higher and vocational education, employment services and skilled migration, the committee said.

This should be backed by a new cross-portfolio, cross-jurisdictional interagency committee made up of department and agency representatives, along with a data aggregation system to identify skills shortages in the regions.

Throughout the inquiry, the committee found that the current Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) is “severely outdated”, with tech companies in particular impacted by this.

“The ANZSCO definition of the nominated occupations does not align well with the new roles being created everyday by the tech industry, which have evolved well beyond the current classifications,” tech giants Atlassian and Canva said in a submission quoted in the final report.

The ANZSCO should be replaced with a new occupation or skills identification system which will be more flexible to adapt to emerging labour market needs, and definitions should be developed for acute skills shortages and persistent skills shortages.

The medium and long term strategic skills list and short term skilled occupation list should be consolidated into the Skilled Occupation List, the committee recommended.

But the Opposition labelled these attempts to simplify the skills lists as “ill-defined and uncosted” and that the government has “not adequately considered unintended consequences of the efficacy and cost-benefit of pragmatic alternatives raised by submitters”.

The report also recommended that all employer-nominated visas be provided with an option for a pathway to permanency, after finding that the move to replace the 457 visa with the Temporary Skills Shortage visa led to “tighter eligibility criteria and higher costs”. There would still be conditions for the length of time to permanency varying from visa to visa depending on skill level and other considerations under this plan.

The Liberal-led committee is pushing for the government to allow for intra-company transfers of executives to Australia when this is necessary for them to expand their local operations, and this would be exempt from labour market testing requirements.

A number of issues with the visa processing system and customer service at Home Affairs were identified during the inquiry, and the committee recommended a more streamlined visa application process, the establishment of industry liaison officers and a new specialist triage system to provide advice.

In additional comments, the Labor Senators said there is currently a “once in a generation opportunity to reform our migration program”, but the government-led committee does not capitalise on this.

“This report is a missed opportunity to rethink the skilled migration program to attract younger, highly skilled migrants and boost Australia’s long-term economic prospects and wealth,” the Labor Senators said.

“At its worst, people could well view this inquiry as a low-rent complaints shop run by the government, to make it easier for employers to bring in migrants yet doing nothing to boost Australian wages or our long-term national wealth.”

The Opposition also claimed the report represents a “remarkable and blatant repudiation by government members of Peter Dutton’s tenure as Minister for Immigration”, with the reversal of many of his reforms including the removal of pathways to residency and multiple skills shortages lists.

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