Migrant Accountants Fail English Test

Migrant accountants fail English test

Yuko Narushima
Sydney Morning Herald
January 14, 2009

OVERSEAS accountants are flocking to Australia under the skilled migration program but few pass the English requirements to work in the sector, leaving labour shortfalls unmet, a study into immigration policy has found.

There are now more overseas accountants gaining visas each year than there are domestic graduates in the field, a study in the upcoming edition of the People And Place quarterly journal has found.

But the occupation remains on the critical skills list because students using Australian accounting courses to gain permanent residency do not find work.

“The main reason is poor English skills,” said the director of the Centre for Population & Urban Research at Monash University, Bob Birrell. Of the 9107 foreign accountants granted visas in 2007-08, more than two thirds studied at Australian institutions.

“The fact that such a large majority of overseas student graduates possess poor English indicates that Australian universities are conferring graduate credentials on students who do not have the skills needed to practise their profession,” Professor Birrell said.

The study that Professor Birrell wrote with Ernest Healy uses the “abysmal” employment experience of overseas accountants, by far the largest group in the skilled migration program, to illustrate the program's shortcomings.

For example, the accounting firm KPMG said substandard English resulted in less than 1 per cent of former overseas student applicants landing a job in the company's entry level program.

“This experience indicates the potential for pruning the current program without damage to its core objective of filling skills shortages,” the paper said.

The number of skilled migrants entering Australia is at a record. The Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, has said a small cut to the yearly intake of 133,500 was “more likely than not” when numbers for 2009-10 were adjusted in the May budget to factor in the global financial meltdown.

The mismatch between accounting graduates and available jobs exposes a problem that was allowed to brew for a decade, the paper said.

From 1996 to 2007, the Coalition government tied only a small number of new university places to accounting studies. At the same time, universities hungry for the bigger financial returns of full-fee-paying students gave priority to overseas students, it said.

Part of the solution was for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to raise the English language standard for student visas and demand higher standards of accrediting bodies, the paper said. “DIAC is fully aware of the dire employment situation of migrant accountants and of the role of English language skills in producing this outcome.”

Student visas are open to people with a Level 6 proficiency in English, under the International English Language Testing System. However, crash courses in English, at a remedial language school for example, can reduce that requirement to a “functional” standard of English or Level 5.

To work as an accountant, graduates need at least a Level 7 standard of English.