A major review into the nation’s immigration program will urge the Albanese government to remove a blanket requirement that employers put out job advertisements before recruiting skilled migrants.
Under the plan, the rule would be replaced by an independent assessment to determine where there are skills shortages, in a bid to stop Australia losing top-end talent to rival destinations.
An interim review from a four-month inquiry, to be handed to Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil this week, will raise the alarm on a talent drain. Australia is losing skilled migrants to other countries because visa processing waiting times have stretched out to as long as 18 months.
The review will be handed to Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil this week.Credit:James Brickwood
The review, by former public service chief Martin Parkinson, University of Adelaide law professor Joanna Howe and former Deloitte partner John Azarias, will urge the government to consider overhauling labour market testing rules that require businesses to advertise locally before recruiting skilled migrants.
Under the current system, employers have to advertise a position for at least four weeks, even when it is clear there is a labour shortage in a particular area.
Multiple sources who are aware of the contents of the review said it would recommend removing the rule and replacing it with an independent process to determine where the job shortages are.
The inquiry will also recommend raising the $53,900 temporary skilled migration income threshold – the minimum salary for sponsoring a temporary skilled migrant – which has not changed since 2013. Labor made an election commitment to lift the threshold and discussions about the level to which it should be raised have taken place recently.
Former immigration department deputy secretary Abul Rizvi said market testing rules should be completely scrapped and the threshold lifted to about $70,000.
“Everyone who knows anything about immigration, including unions, recognises that labor market testing is just a charade,” he said.
“It involves an enormous amount of delay because employers have to go through a bureaucratic set of advertising processes, not necessarily the normal advertising processes, but advertising processes as defined by the government.
“The government getting involved in telling an employer they’re right or wrong when they try to recruit someone from overseas has never worked.”
O’Neil last month flagged problems with the rules, saying the nation had a “labour market testing process that in some cases is little more than a box-ticking exercise that wastes time and energy”.
She cited the case of Nobel-prize winning astrophysicist Brian Schmidt, now vice-chancellor of the Australian National University, who secured a visa to Australia in just four days when he and his wife came to Australia in 1994. An astrophysicist today has to wait an average of 178 days to receive a skilled visa to Australia.
After being abolished by the Coalition in 2001, labour market testing was reintroduced by the Labor government in 2013 and then expanded by the Coalition in 2018.
Australian Council of Trade unions president Michele O’Neil said any changes must include an assessment of skill shortages that was “rigorous, adaptable and reflective of actual labour market demands compared with the current model”.
“Our current migration system is broken – the system needs a complete overhaul to ensure it is integrated with domestic skills development and workforce planning, while addressing migrant worker exploitation and rebalancing our system toward permanent migration,” she said.
The review is also expected to urge the government to change the way it develops the skilled migration lists that determine workforce needs. They are largely seen as outdated and not fit-for-purpose in attracting workers in high-tech industries.
It will also seek to tackle the explosion of temporary visas to nearly 2 million a year, double what it was 15 years ago.
Skilled migrants comprise just 6 per cent of the nation’s overall temporary program.
Mary Anne Kenny, associate professor of law at Murdoch University and a lawyer who works on migration issues, said the system had become “incredibly complicated”.
Kenny said she hoped the review would provide clearer pathways from temporary to permanent migration and from permanent visas to citizenship.
“Simpler processes in order to attract the best migrants we can and to be competitive would be a really positive thing coming out of the review,” she said.
“Temporary migration can be beneficial, but there has to be an opportunity for some way of being able to make it permanent.”
Refugee policy won’t be a subject of the review to be handed down this week, but Kenny said she would like to see Labor follow through on its commitment to raise the annual humanitarian intake to 27,000.
The government last month announced about 19,000 people who have been languishing on temporary protection visas for up to a decade will be eligible to apply for a permanent residency.
The cohort will be in addition to the nation’s normal annual refugee intake of 13,750.
The government last year announced it was lifting the nation’s permanent migration cap from 160,000 to 195,000 after unions and businesses agreed for the need to tackle a skills shortage related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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