Update from Australia
Australia’s new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has signaled a major shift in immigration policy by declaring that she does not believe in a “big Australia.”
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was in favor of population growth, with his government predicting it to hit around 36 million by 2050, largely through immigration. Australia’s population grew by two percent last year, mainly through migration – faster than any other developed country.
Since her appointment, Ms. Gillard has said, “Australia should not hurtle down the track towards a big population. I don’t support the idea of a big Australia with arbitrary targets of, say, a 40 million-strong Australia or a 36 million-strong Australia. We need to stop, take a breath and develop policies for a sustainable Australia. I support a population that our environment, our water, our soil, our roads and freeways, our buses, our trains and our services can sustain.”
But Ms. Gillard says that does not mean putting a stop to immigration altogether. Herself a migrant, Ms. Gillard said she would hold together an immigration policy that was pro-business and highly skilled, saying, “I don’t want business to be held back because they couldn’t find the right workers. That’s why skilled migration is so important.”
A recent poll showed 72 percent of people supported a rise in Australia’s population, but 69 percent wanted it to remain below 30 million people.
Just a month before Ms. Gillard’s appointment as Prime Minister, the Australian government had announced a new skilled migration program to address Australia’s medium and long-term skill needs. At the same time, the government confirmed that employers would be able to continue to solve their skill shortages through employer-sponsored programs that would be given priority processing with state and territory governments and given a role in sponsoring skilled migrants to solve local skill shortages.
A new Skilled Occupations List (SOL) comes into effect on July 1, 2010, and provides for just 181 occupations, which is a significant decrease from the old SOL containing 408 occupations. The new SOL represents a more demand-driven approach towards the skilled migration program, emphasizing high-value skills that will assist in addressing Australia’s labor market shortages. Under the old SOL, it was possible for a Ph.D. in environmental science from Harvard to miss out while a cook or hairdresser with low English skills who had completed a short technical course in Australia was able to proceed directly to permanent residence.
Occupations on the new SOL include doctors, nurses, dentists, accountants, engineers, IT professionals, and teachers (except primary school teachers), along with selected highly skilled trades, including electricians, carpenters, and motor mechanics.
By contrast, the demand-driven employer-sponsored temporary residence program allows businesses to sponsor over 620 managerial, professional, associate professional, and trade occupations. A key requirement for approval as a sponsor is that the business can demonstrate that it has met the training benchmark of spending at least one percent of gross payroll on training or upskilling its Australian workforce. Employers in regional Australia are able to sponsor not only these occupations but dozens of other occupations by entering into a Labour Agreement with the Australian government. For continued access to the program, a regional business must provide six monthly reports on efforts to recruit and train locals.
Employers can also nominate foreign workers for permanent residence in 430 occupations. A nominee must meet any of the following three criteria: (a) be paid in excess of A$165,000 p.a.; (b) be working in Australia for at least two years on one of a select range of temporary visas, including at least one with the nominating employer; or (c) have their skills or qualifications assessed by an approved assessing authority and have at least three years of relevant industry experience. Fully documented applications can result in permanent residence approvals in just two months.
By comparison with many other developed economies, Australia already shows signs of recovery from the global financial crisis. The government is keen to ensure that skills are readily available to facilitate a full recovery as well as deal with the looming issues that will flow from Australia’s aging population. To this end, newly elected Prime Minister Gillard has suggested that the government could pursue different migration policies for different parts of the country – the clearest indication yet that the skill needs of employers will be the driver of any new migration program.