Few people in the business community find the endless rules, regulations and policy adjustments associated with the Australian migration program to be an interesting topic of discussion.

It’s an opinion I can empathise with – certainly some of the documents that come across my desk can make for some pretty dry reading from time-to-time.

Personally though, I find migration policy fascinating, largely because of my regular involvement with the human element of the equation, and being able to see the effect policy has on businesses and people within South Australia’s local economy.

Having worked at the coalface of the migration industry as a registered migration agent for the past 15 years, as well as being involved in policy discussion through positions with industry bodies such as the Migration Institute of Australia, I suppose I have somewhat of a unique perspective on how important a well-designed policy is for future economic development.

Employers, visa applicants and regular Australian consumers and workers – everyone is affected by changes to our country’s migration program in one way or another.

It could be as simple as your favourite restaurant going out of business due to a lack of access to authentic cooks and chefs, or a drop in demand within your own industry because of low population growth that sees employees from your own company having to be let go. No industry is immune to the effects of a poorly designed or executed migration program and the accompanying ‘brain drain’ that goes with it – at both a local and national level.

It’s why I find it frustrating when significant changes relating to immigration policy that have the potential to provide substantial benefit to numerous local industries and the broader economy go un-discussed throughout the media and other public forums because of a perceived lack of interest in the topic.

If the topic isn’t considered to be of interest, it’s because it isn’t being framed correctly. Not because it isn’t important.

Last year, the Federal Government announced a review of Australia’s skilled migration and 400 series visa programs, with the intention of simplifying the rules, regulations and red tape currently restricting it’s use by Australian employers.

The review is in its early stages, with the outcome to be made known sometime later this year.

Whilst it may sound like any other regular review or audit that governments frequently undertake to show their commitment to improvement, that’s certainly not the case. This review is significantly important.

Heralded as being likely to have ‘the most far-reaching transformation” to the program in the past 20 years according to an official Immigration Department overview, the series 400 visa and skilled migration review has the potential to shape the direction of Australia’s skilled migration program for the next two decades.

For South Australia in particular, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to shape the future economic prosperity of our State.

Encompassed by the review are programs such as short-stay Business visas, Community and Events (e.g. Sports, Entertainment and support staff visas), International Relations (i.e. diplomatic visas) and Training and Research visas, as well as the entire skilled migration program – a stream accounting for 67.7% of Australia’s total annual migration intake.

Business visas, Distinguished Talent visas, Independent Skilled migration visas and permanent Employer-sponsored migration visas will all be under the microscope, presenting an enormous opportunity for South Australian businesses that are struggling to find skilled staff at a domestic level.

According to the Proposal Paper, the rules and regulations surrounding visa conditions, guidelines and eligibility criteria within these streams are all up for discussion, providing a rare opportunity for industry stakeholders to have their voices heard.

The review also sets out to combine all 400 series and skilled migration visas into 3 distinct streams – Work, Business and Activity, compared to the current model that is far more convoluted.

The outcome of the review has the potential to provide many enhancements to the current system, such as the opportunity to introduce new demand-driven targeted programs to specifically generate and stimulate economic activity. Here are five of the most significant changes that I would like to see made as a consequence of this review:

  1. Creation of a new economic migration stream in addition to the existing employer nominated scheme and Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme where population growth, economic activity and GDP is less than the national average.
  2. Address deficiencies and irregular departmental policy regarding occupations including cooking, agriculture, farming and production horticulture. Canada has a program for seasonal work which could be introduced into the Australian visa framework to assist with semi-skilled and seasonal work.
  3. Review the manner in which the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) is used by the Department of Immigration, as well as how it is used to address occupational omissions from the Skilled Occupations List.
  4. Introduce a Regional Significant Investor Visa to encourage investment into regional Australia where applicants would be required to invest $3 million over 5 years rather than the existing $5 million investment requirement over 4years.
  5. Introduction of a structured workplace training program for international students in the VET sector that are currently not afforded post-study work rights, despite there being severe skill shortages existing in the cookery, horticulture, nursery, bakery or automotive industries.

It should also be noted that in order to strengthen and maintain the integrity of these programs, monitoring should be introduced to the permanent employer visas.

This would help ensure that the program is being used solely for its intended purpose, and is not being manipulated to secure a permanent residency outcome in non-genuine circumstances.

Maintaining the integrity of Australia’s temporary and permanent migration programs is integral to ensuring that Australian residents and citizens are not overlooked in favour of foreign employees.

Internationally, skilled migration is a fiercely competitive field, and Australia needs to ensure that our program “aggressively targets ‘talented’ migrants in a highly competitive environment” as per the review’s initial proposal.

It must be flexible, demand-focused and designed to create and support increased economic activity. In South Australia, a targeted skilled migration has the potential to act as an economic enabler, in addition to creating more jobs and training opportunities for local South Australians. Such a program will help South Australia to address our historically low population growth rates and help generate a greatly needed rise in economic activity.

If South Australian industry, business and government can all come together in support of changes to the migration programme that will provide increased economic benefits for our State, it would be a truly great result.

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