March 2024 – Australian Governments Migration Strategy – Getting migration working for the nation.

Migration strategy 2023

In December of last year, the Federal Government released its vision on getting migration working for the nation. For those that have employed candidates from overseas, you have no doubt experienced first hand how clunky, slow, expensive and cumbersome the current system is.

On a recent flight, I was able to read the 99 page response that was released by the Federal Government, following the presentation of the March 2023 final review report, which was conducted by Dr Martin Parkinson AC PSM,  Professor Joanna Howe and Mr John Azarias.

The review into the migration system has resulted in five broad objectives for system improvement being settled on. These include:

1. Raising living standards by boosting productivity, meeting skills shortages and supporting exports.

2. Ensuring a fair go in the workplace by complementing the jobs, wages and conditions of all workers and preventing migrant worker exploitation.

3. Building stronger Australian communities by better planning the migration intake, and giving migrants the opportunity to invest in their lives in Australia through permanent residence and citizenship
4. Strengthening international relationships by building stronger economic and social connections with our region and international partners; and

5. Making the system work by being fast, efficient and fair for migrants and employers.

To achieve these objectives, a roadmap with 8 key action points has been established to overhaul the entire system, rather than focus on piecemeal improvements. The 8 key actions include:

1. Targeting temporary skilled migration to address skills needs and promote worker mobility

2. Reshaping permanent skilled migration to drive long-term prosperity

3. Strengthening the integrity and quality of international education

4. Tackling worker exploitation and the misuse of the visa system

5. Planning migration to get the right skills in the right places

6. Tailoring regional visas and the Working Holiday Maker Program to support regional Australia and its workers

7. Deepening our people-to-people ties in  the Indo-Pacific; and

8. Simplifying the migration system to improve the experience for migrants and employers.

The vast majority of clients that we have spoken with, who have employed candidates from overseas, have mostly been bringing on board technically experienced candidates, who can satisfy the increasing demand for hands-on staff, which exists across all dealerships, irrespective of location and brands serviced.

Whilst it is generally accepted that everyone would like more Technicians (all levels), Spraypainters, Panelbeaters etc the impact of border shutdowns during Covid, coupled with the proximity of some businesses to resource-rich areas, saw some locations impacted more dramatically than others.

For example, the mining and resources sector in Western Australia had a large chunk of their FIFO workforce locked out. Those companies required staff to keep their operations going, and the only place they could get them was locally. We saw similar issues in parts of Queensland, as well as New South Wales.

With so many brands represented in the Australian market, fewer school-leavers entering the trade, businesses outside of dealerland offering much higher pay, or more flexible hours, it is no wonder that it is an increasing battle to find, secure, and keep technical staff.

To that end, any improvement that will allow for the securing of technical staff from overseas in a more efficient way, ought to, and really needs to be, embraced by employers.

Most of the international mechanical candidates we see in Australia have been employed under the old 457, or the newer 482 visa, though some come through via regional streams.

Ignoring all the fluff and posturing that litters the government response, there are some areas that, if delivered on, could shed rays of light.

Action Point 1 – Targeting temporary skilled migration to address skills needs and promote worker mobility

The Government will develop a new Skills in Demand visa, with full mobility and clear pathways to permanent residency, streamline labour market testing to reduce complexity, as well as establish a best practice service level agreement for processing times, plus a modernised accreditation pathway to better compete for talent.

The Government will introduce a new 4-year temporary skilled worker visa — the Skills in Demand visa. The simpler and better-targeted Skills in Demand visa will replace the complex single employer-sponsored Temporary Skill Shortage visa, which business and unions say is not fit for purpose. A key feature of this visa is an alternative approach to mobility—with new visa settings, streamlined applications and consideration of trailing employer fees that remove many onerous conditions that tie a migrant to a single employer.

Under this new visa:

If the employment relationship with a sponsor ceases, visa holders will have 180 days to find another sponsor and can work during this period.

The Government will explore a model for employers to pay trailing charges and fees (e.g. monthly or quarterly) to make hiring a new migrant less onerous.

Visa applications will be backed by a service standard for visa processing, enabling employers to fill a vacancy quickly.

A public register of approved sponsors, including the number of migrants sponsored and their occupations, will be developed to assist migrants wishing to find a new sponsor.

The government will create three targeted pathways within the Skills in Demand visa. The second pathway in the new Skills in Demand visa is the Core Skills Pathway. Most temporary skilled migrants will come through the Core Skills Pathway, which is designed to bring in the skilled employees Australia needs now and in the future to ensure that we are able to provide ourselves with the goods and services we need to support our way of life.

The Core Skills Pathway would be available to applicants who meet the general eligibility criteria and whose occupation is on a new Core Skills Occupation List. They will be paid a salary at or above the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT), currently set at $70,000, but to be indexed, or the relevant average market salary, where it is above the TSMIT.

The Government will further evaluate how to develop an Essential Skills Pathway—a more regulated pathway for lower paid workers with essential skills — in consultation with state and territory governments, unions, businesses and
migrant workers. In defining essential skills, the Government may give consideration to sectors and occupations that are vital to supporting the living standards of Australians and where persistent shortages exist.

The Government will immediately move to streamline labour market testing by removing the requirement to advertise positions through Workforce Australia and will subsequently increase the validity period from 4 to 6 months, and will establish a median service standard of 21 days for the new Skills in Demand visa.

Action Point 5 – Planning migration to get the right skills in the right places

Jobs and Skills Australia to be established, which will be the key body for advising on Australia’s skills needs. It will help ensure local workers’ skills and job opportunities are prioritised, and the migration system is guided to areas of best use. Jobs and Skills Australia’s role in the migration system will mature over time and will look to take into account not just the ‘what’ and ‘where’, but also the ‘why’ and  ‘how’ with respect to occupations in shortage. This will help ensure migration complements the domestic skills and training system.

Jobs and Skills Australia will be charged with defining a new Core Skills Occupation List, for the Core Skills Pathway, in addition to providing advice on appropriate sectors and occupations in the Essential Skills Pathway.

The Core Skills Occupation List (CSOL) will be a single consolidated list, developed by Jobs and Skills Australia,  starting  with the Jobs and Skills Australia Skills Priority List, constructed through a comprehensive evidence-based process that takes account of a range of factors and includes extensive tripartite engagement
and input from across Commonwealth and state and territory governments. In the near-term, the Core Skills occupation List will incorporate new occupations that have been added to ANZSCO in recent years. New ANZSCO occupations will also be factored into the list as they are added by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

There are currently 39 skilled migration assessing authorities approved by the Minister for Skills and Training to undertake skills assessments for 650 occupations. Reforms to lift the skills assessment sector, reduce complexity in the skills assessment process and invest in migrants’ employment outcomes will facilitate greater workforce participation and drive stronger economic outcomes.

Action Point 8 – Simplifying the migration system to improve the experience for migrants and employers

The Government’s fifth objective of the migration system is a ‘fast, efficient, and fair’ system that supports the other objectives. Principally, simplicity is about creating a system that is best able to seize opportunities
in the national interest. Without simplicity, small businesses might not be able to fill a critical role quickly and migrants might be deterred from considering Australia as a destination.

Sixty-five percent of business visa applications use migration assistance, which is a sign that the system is not working as desired. The Government has invested more than $84 million on visa processing staff to reduce the visa backlog and improve processing times.

With around 100 different visa products, work is underway to reduce this number, with the removal of merging of around 20 visa subclasses. The Governments approach to simplify the migration system will look at:

1. Clear pathways to permanent residence for temporary skilled migrants and a pathway to citizenship for New Zealanders

2. Exploring a model for employers to pay trailing fees, rather than upfront fees

3. Streamlined approach to labour market testing requirements

4. Clear service standards for visa processing of temporary skilled migrant workers and graduate visa holders

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