02 June 2009

MIA concerned about next year's Australian skilled migration program

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The Migration Institute of Australia (MIA) has released a mixed response to the 2009-10 Australian skilled migration program. While the MIA feels that the Government has shown a "compassionate approach" to the humanitarian and family stream of Australian migration, it says that restrictions on the Australian skilled migration program – particularly for trades occupations – did not take into consideration the export education industry and big plans for Australian infrastructure.

The Government reduced the Australian skilled migration program at the turn of 2009, when the recession was starting to take effect.  The planning level for the remainder of the 2008-09 financial year was reduced from 133,500 to 115,000 skilled migration visas and the Critical Skills List (CSL) and priority processing order were both introduced so that the Government could target the skills it needed most.

As of the 01 July 2009, the Australian skilled migration planning levels will be further reduced to 108,100 visas, and the CSL and priority processing order will remain as guidelines for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's visa processing officers.  This means that sponsored visas and independent visas with skills nominated in the health, engineering and IT sectors will constitute a major part of Australian visa approvals during the start of the next financial year.

While the MIA has recognised the importance of downgrading and targeting the Australian skilled migration program during the economic recession, it has also perceived an impending problem with the restrictions placed on trade occupations.

Projected levels of Australian visa grants for trades occupations will be likely to cause trouble if the Government follows through with its massive plans to build up infrastructure.  Not only will trade occupations be subject to more stringent job-readiness criteria, they will have their English language requirements raised from an IELTS score of 5 to 6.  This means that, without a job offer or government-sponsorship, those with trade qualifications will find it much harder to have their Australian skilled visa approved.

Maurene Horder, CEO of MIA, said the new testing system for trades occupations needs greater flexibility to test for job-readiness.

"It’s hard to imagine a one-size-fits-all assessment system of employability," she said.

The MIA also shares a concern that the new emphasis on employer-sponsored and government-sponsored Australian visa applications will flush out young internationals who choose Australia for educational purposes.

This means that prospective Australian student visa holders will be put off choosing Australia as their international studying destination because they will not be guaranteed a permanent Australian visa post-graduation.  Not only will this dampen revenue from the nation's second largest export industry, but the growing disparity between the ageing population and young qualified workers will continue to broaden the gap in the skilled workforce. 

Fortunately, the Australian skilled migration program remains flexible to the needs of the Australian economy.  While states/territories and employers have been given greater power to target the skills they need, the Immigration Minister Chris Evans also has the ability to extend the planning levels for the Australian skilled migration program and amend the CSL so that certain nominated trades can have priority for processing, if the economy needs a boost in skilled workers. 

Senator Evans said in a recent statement that the Government is committing itself to "a long-term planning framework for migration as a key component of the current reform agenda" and that their extension of the family migration scheme is testament to its perception of the importance of family.

"We are recognising the importance of family through this boost which will benefit Australians who seek to have their parents, partners or children join them to live here permanently," Senator Evans added.

The family stream of the Australian migration program has had 2,500 places added to the Spouse and Fiancée Visa program, 1,000 places to the Parent Visa program, and 300 to the Child Visa program.

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