Politicians’ ‘revolving door’ response to foreign workers frustrates businesses, industry group CEDA says.
Temporary skilled migration has not undercut job opportunities or conditions for Australian workers but the “revolving door” political response to foreign workers has frustrated businesses, an industry report has found.
The report from the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), released on Monday, said that skilled migrants, particularly those on temporary skilled working visas, have been an “overwhelming net positive” for the Australian economy and have not had a negative impact on either the wages or participation rates of Australian-born workers.
However, the report said that despite economic evidence suggesting migration is a positive, “governments have responded to community concern with a seeming revolving door of reviews, reports and frequent policy changes to Australia’s temporary skilled migration program”.
The latest policy change was the replacement of the 457 visa scheme with the temporary skill shortage visa scheme, which came into force in March 2018. The then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said the change was intended to ensure that Australians had priority for Australian jobs, because the 457 scheme had “lost its credibility”.
The new visas are available for two to four years for a reduced range of occupations, for which most would require mandatory labour market testing.
But the report said the change surprised the business community because of a lack of consultation.
It has recommended a suite of reforms including introducing a streamlined path to make it easier for global companies to transfer employees to Australia; introducing a more transparent system for identifying areas of skill shortage; removing the requirement for labour market testing, which it says is “inflexible”; and getting the Productivity Commission to review the temporary skill shortage program at least every five years.
It has also recommended that the levy paid by businesses who sponsor a skilled migrant, which goes into the Skilling Australia Fund, should not be payable until a visa application has been accepted, and that the use of the fund be better targeted to alleviate the skill shortage that prompted the visa application, rather than on unrelated training.
The CEDA chief executive, Melinda Cilento, said changes like those introduced in 2017, which made it harder for people on a temporary skilled worker visa to transition to a permanent residency visa, could deter the “best and brightest workers” from coming to Australia.
“We think that having skilled workers come to Australia, demonstrate their skills in the workplace, live in Australia for a time, demonstrate that it works for them as well as the business they’re working for is actually a positive thing,” she told Guardian Australia.
It’s a view that was shared by the prime minister, Scott Morrison, when he was immigration minister in the Abbott government.
According to the report about 55% of temporary skilled visa holders, or 520,000 people, transitioned to a permanent visa in the 14 years to 2014. Since 2012, more than half of all permanent skilled visas granted in Australia were to people who were already living and working in the country under the temporary skilled scheme.
Less than 1% of the of the Australian workforce is on a temporary skilled working visa, the report found, and half of those were concentrated in just four industries. They had a higher average salary of about $95,000 per year.
The top four occupations of those who were granted visas in 2017-2018 were developer programmer, ICT business analyst, university lecturer and cook.
Cilento said any further tightening of the scheme could deter global companies from setting up operations in Australia, but that allowing for intra-company transfers would make Australia more attractive.
“Being able to access talent and skills from around the world is really important to how businesses drive competitiveness now,” she said. “If people are feeling like we’ve got skill gaps here and they can’t readily compliment them through temporary skilled migration into Australia, I think that’s certainly something that they would think about.”
Published by “The Guardian”