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Skilled Migration program - Media Article

Publish Date: 25/11/2023

The Albanese government will target top foreign-born talent for the long haul in its upcoming migration strategy, as a new OECD study shows skilled migrants boost the productivity of local workers.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil's response to the expert panel's migration review delivered in March, due within weeks, is also expected to tighten entry for temporary migrants who have surged into the country after borders were reopened to foreigners in November 2021.

There are 331,000 more international students and foreign workers here than the pre-pandemic high of September 2019, leading to world-leading population growth that is putting pressure on housing supply and consumer inflation.

New figures from the Department of Home Affairs show that in the two years to the end of last month, the number of temporary visa holders in Australia with work rights - including students, graduates, working holiday-makers, skilled and unskilled workers, and New Zealand citizens - has risen 692,500.

At the start of this month, there were almost 2.3 million people on temporary visas with work rights, or about one in six of the nation's entire labour force of 14.6 million.

In the past financial year, the stock of people on temporary visas (not including visitors and aircrew) rose 424,000, more than twice the number of enduring settlers.

Looming restrictions on demand-driven temporary entry, as Canberra addresses visa integrity issues and rejects more student applications, will lead to a fall in migrant inflows in coming years, a senior government source told The Australian.

In recent days, Home Affairs published the final outcome for the permanent migration program in 2022-23, with 73 per cent of the 195,000 places filled in the skilled stream, a reversal from the previous two years when migration dried up due to the pandemic and the family stream raised its share of places.

In 2022-21, when the permanent program welcomed 160,000 people, only half were in the skilled stream.

The federal government announced in May that the planning level for the 2023-24 permanent program would be set at 190,000 places, with 72 per cent designated for the skilled stream.

As the expert panel found, while Australia mainly relies on the annual permanent migration cap to manage migrant numbers, it “is a poor tool for driving predictability of overall migration flows”.

Canberra's former top bureaucrat Martin Parkinson, who led the migration review, said government needed to consider the optimal size and composition of migrant intakes, temporary and permanent, over the medium to long term in the best interests of Australia.

"What we've done, without ever setting out to do it - and I'm sure if the Australian public had been asked they would not have agreed to it - is we've created a guest worker program, with a permanent underclass of people who are temporary migrants," Dr Parkinson told The Australian.

"They have no pathways to permanency, they have no idea what their status is, but we also don't force them to leave."

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