‘Hold skilled migration until SA economy improves,’ was the headline opinion piece from Malcolm King that appeared in InDaily’s enews last week on Tuesday the 24th of February.

In his column, Mr King called for a five-year moratorium on state-nominated migration in order to combat the burgeoning number of jobless South Australians.

However freezing state-nominated applications for five years until the SA Economy improves is not a solution. In fact, it is lunacy, and would constitute an act of economic suicide.

Thinking about this article over the past couple of days, the underlying problem is clear. South Australia’s skilled nominated program is flawed and it needs to be fixed – urgently.

In the past I have written about the list of occupations that appear on the South Australian Governments list, as well as the success of previous migration programs such as Australia’s post-World War II migration program.

The current review of Australia’s skilled migration program draws a line in the sand, and we have a golden opportunity as a State and as a Nation to design a new migration program that will attract and retain skilled migrants who will deliver a greatly needed windfall to our local economy and more broadly across the entire State.

In South Australia and new skilled migration program that could assist growing our population from half of the national average to at least the national average would create thousands of new jobs and employment opportunities.  We would however, need a very selective model that puts greater emphasis on jobs in demand and those that will be in demand into our future.

Australia’s skilled migration program could then be structured into three tiers. A standard program for capital cities such as Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, a regional program for areas such as Perth (Perth already holds this classification) and a new program an economic migration zone which includes areas where population growth is below the national average and where gross state product or economic activity is less than the national average in areas such as South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory – specifically designed to kick start economic development and growth.

The introduction of such a program would include certain waivers or provisions that would offer concessions to those who wanted to live, work and contribute to these areas.  It would include a provision that the holder could only live and work in a designated area, and it would require the applicant to have a very good understanding of the environment in which they were looking to migrate to.

Australia currently has a ‘one size fits all’ migration program with some concessions for designated regional areas such as South Australia. We also have a State Nominated program where the State Government selects and nominates potential migrants allowing them to apply for permanent residency.

Despite this, South Australia is still consistently underachieving in regards to attracting our share of Australia’s skilled migration program.

South Australia makes up about 7.5% of the population of Australia, yet we only attract 5-6% of the skilled migration program. Furthermore, as was reported in Malcolm King’s story, most of these skilled migrants cannot find work in a skilled occupation, defeating the entire purpose of a skilled migration program.

Whilst I disagree with putting a five year moratorium or hold on state-nominated migration, I do agree that the current program is not working.

What we need in South Australia is simple. We need a government who understands the importance of skilled migration and who will engage with industry to determine future needs, not rely primarily on historical data.

In addition to this those who are designing our state-based programs need to have a fundamental understanding of the basic principles of the migration program or at least consult with people who do understand, including matters such as the lack of post-study work rights for international VET students, and the negative impact this has on our economy and skilled migration outcomes.

This article was written in direct response to Malcolm King’s column, which can be read in full here.

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