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Lax immigration policy hurting Australian job seekers

Date

Bob Birrell

The high immigrant intake must be addressed to ensure Australian job seekers don't miss out on employment opportunities.

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. 

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.  

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.

In a new era in which job growth is likely to be far less than during the last decade, it is no longer justifiable to place so much reliance on immigration to fill these jobs. Australian governments and employers need to get serious about training Australian residents where they do not have the required skills.    

Bob Birrell is with the Centre for Population and Urban research at Monash University. He is the author, with Ernest Healy, of Immigration and Unemployment in 2014.

176 comments so far

  • Why are both major political parties so prepared to ignore the best interests of job seekers in Australia. Immediately start by abolishing the massively rorted 457 visa, then if need be reduce immigration massively. This would have to be a major vote winner. Tell your local MP this.

    Commenter
    Brendan
    Location
    Forest Hill
    Date and time
    August 07, 2014, 12:34PM
    • But then again, fruit farmers employ 457 visa holders and backpackers to pick fruit, while the locals collect unemployment benefits. Maybe fruitpicking may have to become part of the work for the dole scheme.

      Commenter
      Kingstondude
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 07, 2014, 12:52PM
    • Excellent article Dr Birrell and thanks you Brendan, My local Wills MP Kelvin Thomson seems to be the only politician in Federal Parliament who is prepared to take on the unsustainable growth, migration and development lobby. Rampant uncontrolled so-called 'skilled' migration is leading to mega destruction of our environment, massive congestion, increase in house prices etc.

      Commenter
      Allan
      Location
      Pascoe Vale
      Date and time
      August 07, 2014, 1:00PM
    • Brendan,

      This should have been made an election issue, but the Liberals' widely rorted 457 skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled immigration scheme has been in place for 18 years since 1996.

      Both Labor and Liberals support record immigration levels - a "big Australia".

      Skilled immigration has been described as a "mainstay" of the Liberals' immigration scheme.

      Scott Morrison and Michaelia Cash relaxed 457 visa restrictions last year, reinstating the loophole which allowed employment agencies and employers to import unlimited numbers of guest workers without scrutiny.

      Morrison and Cash held another 457 visa inquiry this year to wind back reforms introduced by Labor from 1 Jul 2013, reforms introduced in response to the 2008 457 visa integrity review and 2013 inquiry.

      Today, both Scott Morrison and Opposition Immigration Minister Richard Marles declined to be interviewed on ABC 774 Melbourne's Jon Faine program, with Faine stating that Morrison has declined all ABC radio interview requests to appear on his program and to discuss the 457 visa program since coming into office.

      I never hear Scott Morrison talk about curbing the skilled immigration scheme because of jobless Australians.

      I never hear Labor talk about cutting back skilled immigration as a strategy for addressing local unemployment.

      Both state and federal Liberal and Labor governments are heavy users of employment agencies, labour hire and foreign workers.

      With a migration agent claiming on ABC 774 Melbourne this morning that the Immigration department uses overseas labour in South Korea to process visa applications.

      In other news, the national workplace ombudsman set up by Labor, Fair Work Australia, is investigating businesses which use overseas workers on 417 Working Holiday visas.

      Commenter
      Tristan
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 07, 2014, 2:01PM
    • "But then again, fruit farmers employ 457 visa holders and backpackers to pick fruit, while the locals collect unemployment benefits."

      Kingstondude,

      Ah yes, that was your suggestion to work cash in hand mowing lawns.

      Or move to Malaysia because IT work has dried up in Australia.

      Did you know that the IT industry is a prolific user of 457 visas, and that's why IT work in Australia has dried up?

      Commenter
      Tristan
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 07, 2014, 2:56PM
    • Allan,

      Queensland Nationals member Keith Pitt has also been vocal about the agricultural industry exploiting guest workers by making them work for food and accommodation only - "woofing" or their second year visa only, or exploitative pay and conditions like $7 per day.

      So ignore Malaysia based IT worker and cash in hand mower, Kingstondude's bleatings about forcing the unemployed to pick fruit, because Unemployment Minister Eric Abetz never has any other jobs, not even at the Tasmanian Cadbury chocolate factory, which Abbott awarded with a $16m taxpayer funded handout.

      Oh, and Abbott is using employment agency Manpower to recruit young people for his rubbish green army scheme.

      How much taxpayers' funds is Abbott planning to waste in private sector recruitment fees using Manpower for the green army?

      Commenter
      Tristan
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 07, 2014, 3:02PM
    • The best way to tell your MP this is to write 'reduce immigration' on your ballot paper. Your vote is still valid if you do not obscure the numbers, where you can express your prefernce between Tweedle Dee and Tweddle Dum

      Commenter
      Outrider
      Date and time
      August 07, 2014, 3:17PM
    • Allan, you are fortunate in having Kelvin as your MP. His views are consistent and considered on population. A reason he's probably not elevated higher in the ALP.
      I have much admiration for the man.
      A visionary.

      Commenter
      A country gal
      Date and time
      August 07, 2014, 3:45PM
    • Dear Tristan...you are quite right that Liberal and Labor support record immigration as a totally bogus and dumb policy...only Labor MP Kelvin Thomson has the guts to speak out intelligently on such an important matter.....Mr Thomson regularly speaks on this issue at his Victoria First meetings and in parliament, ........hopefully the Greens might deal with this monster .....so called skilled migration, perhaps the economist Mr Peter Whish-Wilson?

      Commenter
      Adam
      Location
      Brunswick
      Date and time
      August 07, 2014, 4:08PM
    • "The best way to tell your MP this is to write 'reduce immigration' on your ballot paper."

      Outrider,

      When my local member in the seat of Higgins, Kelly O'Dwyer sent out feedback forms with Liberal talking points that she thought we should be concerned about, I wrote "457 Visas" all over the form and returned it to her office.

      O'Dwyer didn't give a stuff, and was still holding the Liberal line and passionately supported unfettered access to overseas labour.

      Commenter
      Tristan
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 07, 2014, 4:17PM

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