A new inquiry into Australia’s skilled migrant program reports that more than 500,000 temporary migrants have left the country since March 2020, taking valuable professional expertise with them. The resulting impact of the skills shortage on the economy and the viability of businesses, it warned, was serious.
And with borders still shut, migration is expected to continue into negative territory, with a further 77,000 people likely to leave Australia in the 2021–22 financial year, according to the report.
Chaired by Liberal MP Julian Leeser under the joint standing committee on migration, the inquiry focused its examination on discovering what changes and improvements could be implemented to stem the tide of increasing skills shortages, assist the country’s pandemic recovery, and support businesses looking to sponsor skilled migrants.
The report resulted in 18 recommended changes to the skilled migrant program, including the development of a dynamic national workforce plan to co-ordinate the efforts of state and federal governments to address the country’s persistent skills shortages.
This federal plan would be regularly updated with frequent examinations of the country’s future workforce needs and recommend adjustments to Australia’s higher education and vocational education systems, employment services and the skilled migration program.
To facilitate these changes and better respond to the needs of businesses, it advised that Home Affairs should establish industry liaison officers to assist businesses in navigating the administration and cost of the skilled migration program, and provide feedback on emerging conditions in the industry.
NSW’s peak business body, Business NSW, has commended the release of the report’s findings and supported the recommendations.
“Prior to the current COVID-19 lockdowns, access to skills was business’s number one issue,” said Business NSW CEO Daniel Hunter.
Mr Hunter acknowledged that while the priority right now should be to keep businesses trading and getting Australians back into jobs, the skills shortage couldn’t be ignored, and migration was key in addressing the issue.
“While it’s difficult to think about bringing more people into the country at the moment, Australia must make sure it keeps a long-term view in regard to skilled migration. Looking to the future, local training will only get us so far before we need skilled migration to once more fill the gaps and ensure our economy bounces back,” Mr Hunter said.
Business NSW submitted recommendations to the inquiry, which called for more action to retain skilled migrants already in Australia, and waiving of expensive fees such as the Skilling Australia Fund levy.
“It is pleasing the inquiry supported many of our recommendations, particularly around ensuring employers don’t get double charged fees and making it easier to retain onshore skilled migrants,” Mr Hunter said.
“The recommendation to provide industry liaison officers to assist businesses in navigating the skilled migration program is also strongly supported.”
In response to an interim report released by the inquiry, the federal government has already updated the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL) to include a number of new occupations. It has not yet responded to the recommendations of the final report.