skilled migration visa

The Morrison government is moving in the wrong direction with the skilled migration visa program, an influential policy thinktank says.

The Grattan Institute is urging the Coalition to dump some of its current initiatives and instead target the permanent intake of “younger, higher skilled migration visa who are best placed to benefit the Australian community in the long term”.

The thinktank will on Monday release new research criticising the government for shifting the composition of Australia’s permanent skilled migrant intake away from “skilled migrants best placed to succeed in Australia” and towards unproven programs, including the “global talent” initiative.

“These changes should be reversed,” the report says.

The Grattan Institute says the government’s Business Investment and Innovation Program should be abolished, because “few investors are financing projects that would not otherwise occur, or providing entrepreneurial acumen that will benefit the Australian community”.

It argues the government’s Business Investment and Innovation Program visa-holders bring “fewer benefits to Australia than skilled migrants selected through other streams, because they are older, speak little English, and earn lower incomes”.

It also notes the global talent initiative, introduced as a pilot of 1,000 visas in 2018-19, has expanded rapidly to a planned 11,000 visas in 2020-21 – yet “its value remains unproven”.

The new report comes as workforce issues are a growing political flashpoint. Government MPs are increasingly worried that employers cannot find enough workers to staff local businesses recovering from the economic shock associated with the coronavirus pandemic. Those concerns were ventilated during the regular Coalition party room meeting last week.

The veteran Liberal moderate Russell Broadbent also used a contribution in the federation chamber of the parliament last week to argue that people in Australia on bridging visas should be given the right to work, because businesses were desperate for workers because of the closure of the international border.

The Morrison government is also eyeing changes to the humanitarian program.

Guardian Australia understands the government is looking favourably at some elements of the Canadian scheme where private groups or community organisations cover the financial costs and settlement support for humanitarian entrants. Canada has welcomed more than 300,000 refugees since the community sponsorship program has been in place since the 1970s.

The new Grattan Institute report into the skilled program notes the pandemic, and the closure of the international border, has given Australia “a unique opportunity to rethink permanent skilled migration” that should not be wasted.

The report argues that the number of skilled worker visas currently allocated via employer sponsorship and the points test should be expanded, “but these visas also need a rethink”.

It says the program should not be targeted at nominated skilled shortages. The government should instead recruit “younger, higher-skilled migrants who are best placed to benefit the Australian community in the long term”.

It says employer sponsorship should still be available provided the workers earn above median full-time earnings of $80,000 a year.

The report says that change would better target visas to people with the most valuable skills, and simplify the sponsorship process for firms and for migrants. It says points-tested visas should be independently reviewed to ensure they prioritise younger, higher-skilled workers.

“These reforms would deliver big benefits to the Australian community,” the report says.

It says abolishing the Business Investment and Innovation Program would “boost the lifetime fiscal dividend from each year’s migrant cohort by at least $3.7bn”.

“Reforming employer sponsorship could boost the lifetime fiscal dividend from each annual cohort by at least another $9bn.”

One of the report’s authors, Brendan Coates, the economic policy program director at the Grattan Institute, says “one positive from the Covid catastrophe is the unique opportunity for Australia to reset and improve our skilled migrant intake”.

“Our report shows how we can seize this moment to make Australia an even better place – for those of us who already live here and for those who aspire to come here.”


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