New research by workforce experts at Flinders University and Charles Darwin University shows that efforts by skilled migrants to meet employer demands for Australian qualifications result in only marginal returns for these efforts, at least in the short term.
Flinders University's Australian Industrial Transformation Institute Associate Professor in The Future of Work and research co-author, Dr Andreas Cebulla, said the relative lack of consideration given to the portability of skills was demonstrated through the skills mismatch and underutilisation shown in the research data.
Despite federal migration policies selecting skilled migrants through measurements of credentials and skills pegged to education levels and occupations, the non-recognition of overseas qualifications and experience still widely occurs.
Most puzzling to many skilled migrants is a gap between what the Australian government accepts in its points score to allow the entry of skilled migrants into the country, and then what employers do not accept as transferable qualifications.
Significantly, the researchers found a migrant's rush to find regular income by quickly accepting any job offer increased their risk of occupational and skills mismatch.
The Australian Government's survey of recent migrants to Australia shows that despite high employment rates, nearly one-quarter of all permanent migrants (23 per cent) in 2018 experienced skills mismatch.
This was more prevalent for those under South Australia's State-Sponsored migration scheme, with 32 per cent working in a job lower than their skill level, compared with only 13 per cent of employer-sponsored visa holders.
The largest groups of affected migrants were from occupation groups involving information and communication technology professionals; those working in business, human resource or marketing; design, engineering, science or transportation; and specialist managers, health or education professionals.
About one-third (34 per cent) of skilled migrants involved in the survey sought additional qualifications and skills by enrolling in one or more occupational courses, and some also sought to obtain English language proficiency certificates.
However, acquiring additional Australian qualifications makes comparatively little difference to their employment status when compared to migrants who do not seek new qualifications.
The researchers noted the exclusion of migrants from Australia's welfare system for the first four years after their arrival could pressure migrants into accepting job that do not match their nominated occupation or skills.
"We recommend exploring measures within the welfare system that allow for more extended job searches to avoid the cost of occupational mismatches," Dr Cebulla said.
"For Australia to keep focusing on employment or unemployment rates, it obfuscates the underemployment or the utilisation of migrant's skills."
Dr Cebulla said policy implications stem from the research, including statutory agencies providing better advice and guidance on the challenges of skills recognition and building appropriate pathways specific to a migrant's occupation; a review of current skills recognition in Australia, and re-examining the welfare system available to skilled migrants in Australia.
"We argue that Australia should consider developing a more coherent skilled migration process to better harness the human capital of skilled migrants," Dr Cebulla said.
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