Virginia, US
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| Alex Paterson

A Look at Australia’s Migration and Economic Future

Today sees the launch of CEDA’s research report, Migration: the economic debate. Containing insightful commentary on the impacts of migration on Australia’s development to date and migration’s contribution in delivering economic improvements, what is refreshing is the refusal to shy away from challenges Australia faces in designing an agile migration program for the future.

 In true CEDA form, the report encompasses varying views to promote reflection, raise the bar on the quality of debate and ensure no stone is left unturned in subsequent public policy planning.

Recommendations

A total of 17 recommendations are ultimately presented, ranging from influencing Australia’s pattern of settlement (with focus on regions and Northern Australia), reviewing and placing a cap on the working holiday visa program (in light of potential impact on job opportunities for young Australians), to introduction of an independent and more robust mechanism for deciding shortage occupations in Australia and tougher penalties for exploitation of migrant workers. Whilst not specifically included in recommendations, there is significant content emphasising the importance of developing Australia’s migration program to ensure that we are attracting those who have the most to contribute, revisiting the points system and focussing on younger skilled applicants and their families.

Developing an agile temporary migration program is critical

 The one area I would have liked to have seen factored into recommendations specifically, is the need to ensure an agile temporary migration program. Healthy concern to ensure that the local labour force is strong and that there is an appropriate focus on training and skills development is one thing, as is the laudable aim to bring migrants to Australia to contribute for the long haul and integrate fully into our society. However, I hope policy makers are brave enough to ensure that as well as refining requirements for the 457 visa category, Australia has the visa categories that flexibly support businesses in their need to bring staff to Australia for short-term work requirements of up to 12 months. 

The 400 visa goes some way to facilitate these needs but it still has its limitations. We need a short term mobility visa supporting intra-company transfers for up to 12 months, processed swiftly and allowing multiple entries over the period, with streamlined evidential requirements for those businesses with strong compliance records. We are at risk of losing out to competitor countries unless we keep pace. Labour mobility is pivotal to maintaining and developing the vital trade in services component of Australia’s economy, with huge potential for growth in exports.

Considering international students’ rights to work in Australia

We also need to consider whether it is wise to limit international students’ rights to work and if we truly want to contain graduate visa numbers. If we want to attract young talent to Australia and are looking to the long-term potential gains, this cannot be achieved without allowing graduates the opportunity to build their skills and develop their bright ideas while residing in Australia. We need to be prepared for them maybe even to fail and then come up with new and more robust ideas and business strategies in emerging industries. We need to encourage and nurture this entrepreneurial talent, as well as the skilled individuals to support them.

Allowing a period of stay after study in Australia enables young migrants to prove themselves and demonstrate they have the skills and aptitude to transition to permanent residence. In my opinion, we should hold firm and keep such pathways open. I would question whether a reaction to contain numbers in the current period where graduate unemployment is an issue, will stand Australia in good stead. Ultimately, we are competing for the top tranche of graduates from Australian universities and of course, overseas. 

A springboard for debate

I am optimistic that this report will serve as a springboard for robust debate about the best way forward to ensure the Australian migration program is sufficiently agile and bold in its policy setting. At its heart, this is about:

• The type of economy and society Australia might want;

• The workforce we need to get there; and

• How migration can contribute to that vision, for the benefit of all.

To read the full report, please click here.