With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic Australia was forced to shut its borders to the world. As a result, more than 500,000 temporary migrants have left our shores since March 2020. Many of those temporary migrants were skilled migrants. Net overseas migration continues to be in negative territory with a further 77,000 people expected to leave Australia in the 2021-22 financial year.
The lack of skilled migrants and near record low unemployment has resulted in major skill shortages in the Australian economy impacting the viability of businesses.
However, the pause in the skilled migration program has provided an opportunity to have a less constrained examination of the skilled migration program than might ordinarily be possible. In particular, to consider whether the skilled migration settings are serving Australia’s interests and its traditions of being selective about who we take in, while remaining internationally competitive to ensure Australia remains an attractive place for skilled migrants.
In March the Committee produced an Interim Report responding to specific issues raised by the pandemic and how we might attract outstanding global talent to Australia at this time.
In order to address critical labour shortages during the pandemic, the Government established the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL).
The Committee received evidence of significant skill shortages emerging in the economy during the pandemic, in addition to the occupations already listed on the PMSOL. This led the Committee to recommend in the Interim Report that the Government include a broader range of occupations on the PMSOL.
The Government subsequently added more than 20 occupations including veterinarians, chefs, and civil and electrical engineers which the Committee had identified.
This final report builds on the interim report and seeks to place the skilled migration program in context. While skilled migration plays a role in increasing Australia’s general human capital, it is also one of the policy levers that governments can use to address skill shortages in the Australian economy. Other levers include higher education, vocational education and employment services programs.
It became apparent to the Committee throughout this inquiry that there needs to be greater coordination of effort across governments and across jurisdictions to identify labour shortages and put in place the appropriate policy response.
The Committee also recommends further streamlining the skilled migration program by addressing some structural issues and provide all skilled migrants with a pathway to permanency, but with conditions and length of time to permanency varying. Additionally, an alternative system should be developed to replace the universally criticised Australia New Zealand Skilled Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) to underpin the skills lists.
The Committee sought to address issues around the administration of the skilled migration program with a particular focus on different experiences skilled migrants might have when coming to Australia. To take a few examples, Australia should provide more incentives for migrants to move to regional Australia where persistent skills shortages exist; Australia should encourage the best and brightest international students to remain here to help address some our persistent skills shortages; and the Department of Home Affairs needs to improve its processes and be more responsive to skilled migration visa applicants and employer sponsors.
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee was fortunate to hold hearings and site visits in Melbourne, Sydney, Albury and Shepparton which helped give the Committee a perspective on the challenges of skilled migration in regional Australia and across a range of businesses and industries.
On behalf of the Committee I would like to thank all those who made submissions and gave evidence to this inquiry. In particular, I would like to thank the Committee Secretariat for their work on the report as well as Annie Phillips from my office for their support.
I commend the report to the Parliament.