Human capital and nation building: The new paradigm in Australia's migration policies

by 20 Mar 2012

Australia’s ongoing success in the face of a world in financial crisis is due in part to its effective skilled migration policy which has been used to bolster Australia’s economic growth and development.

The Australian government continues to refine its policies and programs to better determine how many migrants and which migrants should be admitted to meet Australia’s skills needs.

The introduction of the SkillSelect system on 1 July 2012 is a major change in the way Australia meets its human resources needs and will better address skill shortages in regional areas.

Between 2004/05 and 2008/09, Australia selected 358,151 permanent General Skilled Migration (GSM) migrants, including dependants, according to the report, “Competing for Skills: Migration Policies and Trends in New Zealand and Australia”.

Since 1999, the majority of GSM applicants have been former international students in Australia, who qualified for permanent resident status on the basis of their formal qualifications, age, English language skills and in some cases relevant work experience.

The top five professions for skilled migrants to Australia have been accounting, computing, architecture/building, engineering and nursing.

Since the mid 2000s, there has also been strong growth in temporary skilled migration. From 2004/05 to 2008/09, 418,940 arrivals were admitted through the 457 long-stay business visa.

Over this period, Australia has moved to a demand driven employer-sponsored skilled migration scheme with 70% of Australia’s skilled migrants transitioning from the temporary 457 visa to the employer sponsored permanent skilled migration streams.

Competing for Skills states that 58% of 457 visa holders were professionals, 17% were trades, 13% were associate professionals, and 10% were managers and administrators.

Unlike the GSM stream, 457 temporary workers came predominantly from five major English speaking countries in addition to India.

As part of the ongoing review of Australia’s migration program to ensure that it continues to meet Australia’s economic and skill needs, the government has continued to innovate. In July it will introduce a new skilled migration selection register - SkillSelect.

SkillSelect is an online system that will allow skilled workers to lodge an Expression of Interest (EOI) in migrating to Australia. All intending migrants interested in independent skilled, family sponsored skilled, state or territory sponsored skilled, or business skills programs will be required to submit an EOI and receive an invitation in order to lodge a visa application.

SkillSelect will be a major change to how Australia manages its skilled migration program. According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship website, SkillSelect will:

  •  enable the government to manage who is able to apply for skilled migration, when they are able to apply and in what numbers
  • identify applicants that have the skills which Australia needs
  • address regional skill shortages by allowing intending migrants to indicate whether they are willing to live and work in regional Australia.

SkillSelect will better enable the government to manage the overwhelming demand for migration to Australia. The level of demand is reflected by the significant revenue that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship continues to raise on an annual basis in visa and related fees. For 2010/2011 it raised $1.137bn.

At the same time, the government has strengthened measures to address concerns in regard to increasing fraud in visa applications through the recent introduction of the public interest criterion 4020.

If a person is invited to apply for a visa, and the information submitted is false or misleading it may be considered fraud, and the application could be refused on that basis. Criterion 4020 if applied means that not only is the visa application rejected but the person is subject to a three year bar preventing them from lodging and having granted to them a further visa.

Despite strong competition from the rest of the English speaking world, Australia’s continuing buoyant economy, lifestyle and good governance continues to make it a sought after destination for many skilled migrants throughout the world.

Australia’s targeted migration policies and programs continue to offer new paradigms in Australia’s management of its skilled migration outcomes and in assisting it to meet its human capital needs.


About the author

Maria Jockel heads Holding Redlich’s National Immigration Law Group. An accredited immigration law specialist and registered migration agent, she is in the International Who’s Who of Corporate Immigration Lawyers, is nominated in the Peer Review “Best Lawyers” 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and is the convener of the Immigration Lawyers Association of Australasia.


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