21 July 2006

Australian immigration netting 'brain gain'

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The so-called "brain drain" that plagued Australia in the late 1990s has turned into a "brain gain" because of a massive increase in the number of skilled foreign professionals immigrating.

The Australian is reporting the trend of Australian leaving to work overseas has also eased, with many chosing to return, according to a new Department of Immigration report.

The report, by demographer Bob Birrell, comes as debate continues over the increase in temporary skilled migration under the Government's 457 visa program.

"The scale of the net inflow is very striking now and it indicates how dependent we are becoming in Australia on overseas skills," Mr Birrell said.

An analysis of the number of people moving to and from Australia during 2004-05 found the nation had a net gain of 44,443 people with a skilled occupation during the period.

The increase was driven by an influx of professionals, with a net gain of 29,054 people.

"Australia's net gain from international movement of skilled persons has nearly doubled since the end of the 20th century, with the most rapid growth occurring amongst professionals," says the report, which analyses the impact of population movements on the size and make-up of Australia's skilled workforce.

In addition to the increase in skilled foreign labour, evidence of a "brain drain" was diminishing as expatriate Australians who left in the late 1990s returned home, Mr Birrell said.

The surge in Australian resident departures during 1999-2000 and 2000-01 - which had fuelled concerns about the brain drain - was in fact reversed just two years later, the report finds.

Ben Buchler, a postdoctoral research fellow with the Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence in Quantum-Atom Optics, left for Switzerland in 2002 and returned earlier this year. However, he did not count himself as part of the brain drain when he left Australia because he had always intended to return.

"I always wanted to return to Australia eventually because I like it here," Dr Buchler told The Australian yesterday.

The report identified the largest number of settlers worked in the fields of computing, accounting, building and engineering.

Nurses and doctors also experienced large increases, reflecting areas of domestic skills shortages, the report says.

Geologists, geophysicists, medical scientists and mathematicians have also experienced consistent, though slight increases, despite earlier concerns about decreases.

Australia also made a net gain of 6098 tradespeople in 2004-05.

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