Virginia, US
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| Teresa Liu

The importance of a balanced Australian immigration program

It seems at the moment that the world is constantly talking about global competitiveness, innovation and productivity- and rightly so.
Indeed a number of organisations undertake regular reviews, and one of the most recent reports, released in September 2015 by the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranks Australia 21 out of more than 140 economies (36 in Labour Market efficiency) in it’s Global Competiveness Report of 2015-16. While there may be views about the accuracy of this or other reports in the area, the report does remind us of the importance of being globally competitive and, in Australia, to question how we compare against other economies, and further, how best to position ourselves to reap the benefits of our participation in a  global economy.
The world is getting smaller but the opportunities from globalization seem to be getting larger and larger. National markets are seeing a transformation into global networks and as countries and regions jostle for better trade positions, it has become a more established view that “a domestic economy that puts a premium on productivity and competitiveness” as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Peter Varghese so well articulates, will fare the best from trade liberalization and a more open economy. Australia is considered a mature economy with strong infrastructure and a well-defined legal framework. Indeed, Australia has been very engaged in building interdependent ties with the global community and in the last 10 years has negotiated more than ten Free Trade Agreements, the latest with China, which amongst other things, recognizes the importance of the movement of international labour.
For business, and those particularly engaged in mobility and cross border people movement, two questions would instantly then spring to mind. Firstly, does Australia’s immigration policy and program adequately contribute to our global competiveness ?  and Secondly, how do we balance this against the domestic labour market and environment ? These questions are particularly of interest given the current and lengthy review by Government over 2014 and 2015 of it’s immigration program.
There are no easy answers.
The Migration Council of Australia has long held the view that the 457 visa program (as one significant part of Australia’s economic immigration program), is critical in keeping the country competitive and has been relied upon by business for many years. The Government has recognized the importance of this program and continues to seek improvements from an ease and simplification standpoint, but also with respect to enhanced immigration compliance and enforcement.  
For Government, domestic conditions and the environment also plays a critical part in it’s formulation of immigration policy, including immediate workforce and  labour market demands and surplus. Balancing this with the need for an immigration program and policy that also builds a platform to bring in the best and brightest, that attracts communities and hubs for innovation and knowledge sharing, and which improves our overall productivity and competitiveness as a nation is a difficult but important task for Government. This becomes particularly more difficult when domestic economic conditions are tough.
We see this tension play out day to day in immigration laws and policies appearing sometimes to be constantly changing and it sometimes feels like it is “back to the future” as we ride the waves of liberalisation and protectionism in immigration.  Indeed, if you are in the global mobility space and work with Fragomen, you might feel like you are receiving daily alerts about changes in one part or the world or other from us and working with us at regular points to ensure your business’s immigration process and policies reflect the new rules.
As Government forms views and implements changes in the immigration program, particularly the economic immigration program, Australian business and the broader community look with anticipation to the opportunities this may bring for Australia and it’s place in the global economy.