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Migration review warns against Australia becoming nation of ‘permanently temporary’ residents


Australia’s migration system is broken in key areas, often seen as unfair and unable to properly serve both migrants and businesses, according to a scathing assessment of the Albanian government’s migration assessment.

The study, released on Thursday, strongly warns against over-reliance on temporary migrants, putting Australia at risk of becoming a country of “permanently temporary” residents.

It concludes that making the migration system fit for purpose requires “major reform” rather than “tinkering and incrementalism”.

The research on “A migration system for Australia’s future” was carried out by Martin Parkinson, former head of the Prime Minister’s Department; Joanna Howe, associate professor of law at the University of Adelaide; and John Azarias, a former senior partner at Deloitte.

The government has released a chapter ahead of the full report. The panel finds:

The migration system is not fast or efficient and is often perceived as unfair. Users, (potential) migrants and companies find the system unnecessarily complicated and difficult to navigate at all levels.

It says the skilled migration system is “not effectively focused on current or future needs,” and that the occupation lists that underpin it do not reflect current or anticipated labor needs. The study also criticizes the points test used to select skilled migrants who have no job offer.

The research warns that given international competition for highly skilled migrants, “Australia risks falling behind without more innovative and attractive visa products and services”.

Despite a shortage of healthcare workers, “Australia lacks an explicit migration policy targeting lower paid workers and has adopted a piecemeal approach that does not meet our needs or protect vulnerable migrant workers”.

Temporary migrant workers are exploited, a risk magnified by aspects of the system.

As for the students, the review says Australia is not “focused enough on capturing the best and brightest” of the international crop.

In addition, “Australia is allowing too many former students to become ‘permanent temporary’ by not (early enough) identifying those with the greatest potential for success as permanent residents.

The review criticizes the annual migration planning process for lacking a long-term perspective. Smooth and predictable migration enables planning for housing, schools, hospitals and the delivery of goods and services, it notes.

“While successive governments have closely managed the permanent program (195,000 people by 2023), the temporary migrant cohort has been demand-driven and has doubled in size since 2007 to 1.8 million people.”

But Australia does not want to become a country of “permanent temporary” residents.

“Although there is room for truly temporary migration in Australia, there is an increase in ‘permanent temporary’ migration. This has damaged Australia and migrants and undermined community confidence in the migration system,” the report said.

“Had they been asked, it is hard to imagine Australians voluntarily agreeing to the establishment of a ‘permanent temporary’ cohort of workers, similar to guest workers in some other countries.”

The research says, among other things:

  • migrants can wait up to 40 years for their parents to join them permanently

  • migrant women need more opportunities

  • many humanitarian immigrants are held back by their low English and skill level

  • complicated recognition of skills creates problems for migrants

  • the migration system has been ineffective in encouraging migrants to settle in regional Australia

  • migration law is complex and difficult to navigate.

The report states: “Migration is central to the image Australia presents to the world of a diverse and welcoming society. However, elements of the migration system undermine the possibilities to strengthen ties in our region.

“Regional business and political leaders report finding it too difficult to travel to Australia, undermining Australia’s influence and trade ties in the Indo-Pacific region.

“The migration system has failed to help Australia build diaspora communities from our closest neighbors in South East Asia and the Pacific, again limiting people-to-people contacts.

“Temporary migration to Australia can be a source of strong remittance flows, increasing income and creating economic opportunities in the Pacific region. But care must be taken that migration does not trigger a brain-drain that robs the Pacific Islands of capacity and erodes their further prospects.”

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