What is most heartening about the recent migration review is that at last there is recognition by government of the importance of immigration for the country. Indeed, the authors stated that the benefits of a thriving and diverse multicultural community should be celebrated.
But many of the criticisms of the review and the recent budget reply comments from the Opposition Leader on immigration in his budget reply speech, were predictably at odds with the expert views.
Peter Dutton reverted to type, and his tired migrant tropes were divisive, hyperbolic and in attacking the government migration targets, failed to offer any constructive policies or alternative targets that a Coalition government would set.
Frankly, it's rich for Peter Dutton to be criticising immigration policy, when his only achievement as the minister of home affairs was to create massive processing queues with an increasing number of applicants on temporary visas awaiting their permanent visa outcome.
Peter Dutton's comments about housing, infrastructure and jobs also fail to withstand scrutiny.
Housing has been an issue for several years now and there's no quick solution in sight. With a shortage of housing supply and a severe skills shortage, how does Mr Dutton believe homes, roads and hospitals will be built, without skilled migrants?
But what of the review and the recent budget announcements on migration?
First is the lifting of the skilled worker wage threshold to $70,000 from July 1, up from $53,900. This was expected but there a several repercussions that were not considered. One, is if you're going to focus on ending the permanent temporariness of visa holders, you need to consider those currently waiting to apply for permanent residence and ensure they are still eligible.
If you must earn a minimum salary for three years to get permanent residency, when this minimum salary has suddenly increased, how is this going to affect your options? This is the case in many regional areas.
Currently all bodies that deal with the Designated Area Migration Agreements (DAMA), set up to help regional and remote areas with skills shortages, are still waiting to hear from Canberra about how the minimum salary will be implemented.
Many industries that pay lower award wages, such as childcare, are stuck. They haven't had an industry labour agreement with a proviso for lower wages implemented, unlike aged care. Employers are getting nervous as July 1 looms. The reality is that these lower paid sectors simply can't source enough qualified and experienced candidates locally.
In addition, many employers are desperately waiting on one person to approve their employees for permanent places via a labour agreement, which provides for occupations not on ordinary lists - that person is the already very busy minister of immigration.
My office has one client, an important company within the resources sector, that has had employees on temporary visas for four years, still waiting for the single person who can approve the move to permanency, before visas expire in the next two to three months. This must be addressed - the queue is too long, and one person only has so many hours in the day.
Removing skills occupations lists will only work if skills recognition is handled correctly, but this system is currently time-consuming, and will lead to even further delays to get people into the right sponsored jobs.
Perhaps the reviewers could have spoken to migration agents, lawyers and visa applicants themselves, rather than limit themselves to the Grattan Institute and all of the submissions made. It's been obvious for a long time that labour market testing is a waste of time but to replace it with removal of skills occupation lists there needs to be a fast mechanism of recognising skillsets to handle the chronic skills shortage.
It was a bold move to instigate the review and a full review of the system has been long needed, but again we've seen announcements made before the actual implementation has been worked out and consequences have not been fully foreseen.
Now it's the Department of Home Affairs long-suffering staff who must deal with the repercussions and there remains a risk that a rush to lodge applications prior to 1 July, will put undue pressure on the department's faltering IT system.
Overhauling our clunky, and overly complicated immigration system, is clearly not a quick fix, but at least progress is being made, finally.
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