Australia has a skill shortage – it’s time to fix the system

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I have practised in the area of immigration law for over 25 years. The debate about our immigration policy and how we deal with workers who want to come to Australia to work and settle has been a continuing one and we still don’t have any clear guidance, particularly as we enter this post-pandemic era.

I suggest we adopt the approach that any worker is a skilled worker who is needed to aid the recovery and super charge our post-pandemic economic recovery.

As a practitioner advising clients in immigration law, I deal with the skill shortage on a day to day basis. To say our clients are becoming ever more disillusioned about the leadership being exhibited in this area is an understatement.

Australia is considered to be one of the world’s major immigration nations and it is clear we have benefited greatly from it.

Since 1945, over 7.5 million people have migrated here and Australia’s overseas-born resident population is estimated to be around 30 per cent (30%). This statistic puts us at the high end of OECD nations.

The Lowy Institute in 2016 whilst considering Economic Migration and Australia in the 21st century stated that:

Increased intakes of skilled immigrants have assisted structural transitions in Australia’s economy, delivered tangible benefits in addressing challenges related to population, and produced positive effects in relation to fiscal impact, productivity, and immigrants’ employment and labour market outcomes.

I often see migrants with certain skills never achieving their potential and working in occupations well below their relevant skills levels.

Whilst it is an ambition to chase migrants with very particular skills we are competing in a global marketplace for these migrants.

I often hear debate referring to highly skilled migrants as opposed to what are often referred to as low skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled migrants. It is time we forget the rhetoric of high or low skilled workers that surround this debate.

In Australia, we often have a problem filing jobs which are referred to as low skilled or manual in nature. 

Personally, I don’t like or agree with classifying migrants or workers into these categories, but unfortunately it is what we have to work with as practitioner in this area.

We need to start talking about the type of skill we need and the person who can fill it, to help aid the skill shortage in Australia.

This can be done easily with a common-sense approach and consideration of what our economy and industry requires. 

For example, it is arguable that a fruit picker could be considered a skilled person and depending on your point of view, could be considered a highly skilled person if they are required for your business. They have to be fit and healthy, understand their product and they are integral for the food supply chain. 

In my opinion they have skills and should be recognised for those skills. The agricultural sector certainly recognises this.

There’s a looming war for manual and low-skilled labour around the world.

Countries in Asia and the Middle East have for decades sourced their so called low-skilled labour from South-East Asia and South Asia. In Australia we have done it through the Seasonal Worker Programme and the Pacific Labour Mobility Scheme.

We need to and must change our attitude. Japan, which has traditionally made migration difficult, is offering skilled migration pathways for overseas workers without tertiary degrees in occupations including agriculture, aged care and construction. These were previously seen as unskilled or semi-skilled occupations. After five years, workers on these visas will have their skills assessed and can apply to become permanent residents.

While the impact of this scheme is too early to assess, the important point is that there is public support for it in Japan. People there now recognise “the country would not be able to sustain its industries, social security system and cultural heritage without admitting migrants with a broader range of skill sets”.

In my opinion the post-pandemic era provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for Australia to rethink and refocus our migration system as to the type of migrant we want based on our skills needs.

In my opinion it is time we simplified our system with one list of occupations, which subject to demand, be amended regularly. 

Business and industry knows what it wants. The hospitality and tourism sector are just two sectors screaming out for migrants who have skills. Let’s listen to them and be brave enough to make decisions based on that need.

Maybe we need a simple visa that can be granted for periods of up to four years and renewed with a view to gain permanent residency where that migrant has been a valuable and hardworking member of the Australian community.

Australia as a whole and in particular regional Australia will benefit greatly from such an initiative as in Japan but more importantly, we need to look at our system and fix it.

I think the answer is simple, but do we have the courage to do it?

How can FC Lawyers assist with the skill shortage in Australia?

At FC Lawyers, we have an expert team of Accredited Specialists in Immigration law and expert practitioners. 

We have assisted migrants and businesses achieve their goals with very innovative solutions across many visa subclasses.

Don’t hesitate to contact our team to discuss your migration needs or skill shortage requirements.

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