Immigration remains at very high levels because there have been few adjustments to policy from the lax settings put in place during the resources boom. These are urgently needed to address the current oversupply of job seekers.
Net Overseas Migration is running at some 240,000 a year. The result is that, as of May 2014, the number of overseas-born persons aged 15 plus in Australia, who arrived since the beginning of 2011, was around 709,000. Most of these people are job hungry. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Labour Force Survey, 380,000 of these recent arrivals were employed as of May 2014. Over the same three years, the net growth in jobs in Australia is estimated by the ABS to have been only 400,000. This means that these recent overseas-born arrivals have taken almost all of the net growth in jobs over this period.
They are doing so at the expense of Australian-born and overseas-born residents who arrived in Australia before 2011. This is showing up in increased unemployment and decreased participation in the labour force in this resident group.
The hardest hit are amongst young people seeking entry-level semi-skilled jobs and recent graduates in a widening range of professions, including nursing, information communication technology and accounting.
This is not the way it was supposed to be. Successive governments have argued that high migration is beneficial because the migration program is targeting skills not available in Australia.
This is not the case. One reason is that the skilled program is currently granting visas to thousands of the former overseas students who remained in Australia after the immigration reforms announced by the Labor government in early 2010. This is why accountants and cooks have been amongst the largest occupational categories visaed, despite being in surplus.
A second reason, is that the procedures that are supposed to limit the migrant intake to skills needed in Australia since the reforms and to protect the interests of resident job seekers are not working. The Skilled Occupation List (SOL) purports to identify skilled occupations which are in shortage in Australia. This determines the eligibility of applicants for the points-tested visa subclasses. However, the SOL currently includes accountants, registered nurses and dentists (among others) despite strong evidence of oversupply in these fields.
For example, hundreds of resident graduate nurses cannot find registered nursing positions. Yet in 2012-13 there were 2855 permanent entry and 2853 temporary skill visas issued to registered nurses. Many more are in the visa pipeline.
A third reason concerns the rules governing employer sponsorship for permanent entry and temporary entry skilled employment. The migrants sponsored make up over half the skilled intake. Employers can sponsor who they want in any occupation (as long as skilled) regardless of the state of the Australian labour market for the occupation in question. Around half of those sponsored are already onshore. They are being drawn from the huge pool of 1.1 million migrants in Australia on various temporary resident visas.
One outcome is that there are more cooks being sponsored by employers than for any other occupation. Employer sponsorship is being transformed into a pathway to permanent residence unrelated to genuine skill needs in Australia.
Successive governments have allowed the pool of temporary residents to access the Australian labour market (including Working Holiday Makers and students) and to prolong their stay in Australia by churning from one visa to another. 142,000 students did so in 2012-13, including 28,484 who were granted a tourist visa. Most of these are likely to be working illegally. These temporary entrants are feeding the ranks of those keen to find an employer to sponsor them for a temporary or permanent employment visa. They are also competing with young Australian resident job seekers for semi-skilled entry level jobs.
In these circumstances it is clear that action should be taken to ensure that Australian resident job seekers are given priority access to the limited number of new jobs being created in Australia. This action must include a reduction in the permanent entry program such that it is restricted to migrants where there is a well-documented case that the occupations are in short supply. There is also a need to cap the number of temporary entry visas issued, particularly to working holiday makers, and a toughening up of the rules so as to prevent the current scale of visa churning.
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