Changes To Skilled Migration Program ‘A Threat To Recovery’

Changes to skilled migration program a 'threat to recovery'

Christian Kerr and Mark Dodd
From: The Australian
February 09, 2010 12:00AM

THE Rudd government's changes to Australia's skilled migration program could hold back economic recovery, a key business group has warned.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans yesterday announced changes to permanent skilled migration designed to make the program demand-driven rather than supply-driven.

A more targeted list of jobs used to select migrants will be developed by the independent body, Skills Australia, and reviewed annually.

But the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry fears the changes will be “tested” as the economy returns to better growth.

“The inability of employers to successfully recruit labour could mean that less work can be entered into and in some cases turned away,” ACCI employment, education and training boss Mary Hicks said yesterday.

“There will be a delicate balance between trying to develop aspirational targets for Australia's skilled workforce and achieving flexibility in importing skilled labour.”

Ms Hicks said recent changes to the 457 visa scheme had already restricted the flexibility of employers to import labour. “There is a danger that the short-term needs of employers to gain access to skilled workers will be hampered or stopped altogether.”

ACTU president Sharan Burrow welcomed the announcement as recognition Australia needed to better integrate migration policy with national workforce and skills planning.

But Heather Ridout, of the Australian Industry Group, also warned of skills shortages as the economy gathered pace.

“Demand in many critical skills areas has not diminished and businesses are looking at the prospect of the re-emergence of acute skill shortages as the economy recovers,” she said.

“Putting a greater emphasis on a demand-driven system that better matches the needs of business will help ease this pressure.”

Ms Ridout added the changes would also help tackle the pressures of an ageing population.

But she acknowledged the proposals would hit the education sector, already suffering thanks to the global financial crisis and the strong Australian dollar.

Senator Evans said many overseas students treated visas to study in Australia as a precursor to permanent residency.

Opposition training spokesman Mathias Cormann accused him of risking Australia's third-largest export industry, saying: “International education is a $15.5 billion business .”

His Coalition colleague, opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison, said the move would damage Australia's attractiveness as a study destination.

One senior Indonesian official told The Australian: “If this is being done for security reasons then we understand but I hope it won't mean fewer Indonesians wanting to come to Australia.”