25 May 2006

Is skilled immigration limiting Australia?

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James Gobbo, the chairman of the Australian Multicultural Foundation, has said he thinks the Australian Government's pre-occupation with skilled immigrants is limiting the country.

Speaking at a conference last week, Mr Gobbo said, "Sometimes we don't sufficiently recognise that the unskilled offer what we want: they offer to do the unpleasant domestic and shift work. "All of that doesn't figure as skilled labour, but the economy couldn't function adequately without them. We need to understand that skills don't depend on a tertiary education."

Gobbo was not the only speaker at the Immigration Futures conference to voice concern that rich countries such as Australia are being too picky in targeting skilled, tertiary-educated migrants at the expense of family-stream or unskilled migrants.

Robert Rowthorn, an economics professor at King's College, Cambridge, told the summit that cherry-picking skilled workers from overseas was predatory.

"Australia, Canada and the US have enjoyed a massive brain gain at the expense of other countries," he said. "[They are] reaping the benefit of investments made by taxpayers in other countries."

Rowthorn said industrialised nations had imported nearly 14 million more highly educated people than they had sent abroad. Australia had brought in 1.4million more skilled migrants than it had lost, giving it a brain gain of 11 per cent.

Australia will accept between 134,000 and 144,000 migrants next financial year, with a record 97,500 places reserved for skilled migrants chosen on a points system designed to fill Australian skills shortages. The family reunion program accounts for the other 46,000 places, and 13,000 places will be granted to refugees.

Richard Bedford, convener of the Migration Research Group at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, said the skilled migration policies of Australia and New Zealand were "without a sensible social context".

Both countries had a rapidly rising backlog of applications for family sponsorship, he said, which was triggering the re-emigration of new settlers. New Zealand was experiencing an immigration churn, with 23,161 supposedly permanent migrants returning last year to their countries of origin, nearly half as many as arrived.

Bedford said 61 per cent of New Zealand's immigration intake consisted of skilled and business migrants, their spouses and children. But New Zealand did not grant automatic access to migrants' siblings, parents or cousins.

"Would you stay in a country where you can't bring your family in?" he reasoned. "You bring in young migrants from China, and their top priority would be to bring their parents over. It's hardly surprising they don't stay."

"Migration is about people, not just skills and filling holes in labour markets. I think it's going to backfire on all these selection systems in the long run because you will see an out-migration of people who are not satisfied."

Do you qualify for skilled migration to Australia? Take the Points Test.

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