In a major overhauling to its immigration policy, Australia has announced a new preferred occupation skills list, dropping occupations like hairdressing and cookery in favour of doctors, nurses and engineers to crackdown on people seeking permanent residency through low-value education courses.
Immigration minister Chris Evans announced the new skilled occupation list, with 200 fewer classifications and said that it will ensure Australia brings in workers it needs rather than having a policy dominated by people doing particular courses.
The new move will put an end to people coming to Australia for short courses in some vocational subjects and then gaining permanent residency based on that training. "What this will do is drive our independent skill migration programme so that we're bringing in the people we need, not have people dominating our migration programme because of the course they study in Australia," he said.
He said previous lists have not looked at the long-term needs on which to base these decisions. "They've been dominated by various interests lobbying to be on the list," he said adding, "This is an independent piece of work by Skills Australia. It's focused on us developing a skills base and matching our education effort and this list will determine who can independently migrate to Australia."
Evans said it is a fundamental economic reform based on scientific analysis. He said in the past the education system, rather than skills needs, drove migration outcomes. "This is about making sure the people who come in on the migration programme have the skills we need, have the English levels we need and can get a job in that skilled area," he said. He said the list, developed by the independent body Skills Australia and containing 181 highly valued occupations, would ensure Australia's skilled migration programme is demand-driven rather than supply-driven.
"We intend to fundamentally change the way we target skilled migrants to restore integrity to the skilled migration programme," Evans said. The new SOL is a critical reform in the government's overhaul of the skilled migration programme and closes the door on those seeking to manipulate the migration system. Only people with relevant qualifications in occupations listed on the SOL will be eligible for independent general skilled migration.
"Australia's migration programme cannot be determined by the courses studied by international students," Evans said. "This SOL represents a new direction which aims to ensure we choose migrants who have the skills to meet our nation's economic needs. The Rudd government continues to value the very important contribution made by the international education sector and education providers that deliver high-quality courses to both Australian and overseas students will continue to prosper.
"International students who have the skills our economy needs will still be able to apply for permanent migration or be nominated by employers but we will no longer accept the thousands of cooks and hairdressers who applied under the guidelines established by the Howard government."
Under the Howard government people who completed short courses in vocations such as cooking and hairdressing and had low English skills were almost assured of gaining permanent residence as a skilled migrant. In 2007-08, of the 41,000 general skilled visas granted, more than 5,000 went to cooks and hairdressers; three quarters of them had formerly studied in Australia.
These two occupations have been removed from the new SOL. The minister said he would recommend to the Governor-General in-Council amendments to the Migrations Regulations 1994 to give effect to this new framework. The new SOL is proposed to come into effect from July 1 to replace the old list which contained more than 400 occupations. It will be updated annually.
Evans said Skills Australia received advice from industry skills councils, industry peak bodies and Professions Australia to ensure the SOL contained occupations Australia needs in the medium to long term. "The government has increased English language requirements for trade applicants and introduced a new job ready programme for onshore trade applicants. There is now increased priority for employer sponsored migrants and this will ensure industry is able to quickly access the skilled workers it needs," he said.
During the past 18 months, the government has driven a reform agenda, aimed at shifting the supply-driven skilled migration system we inherited to a demand-driven one. "First and foremost, young Australians should be trained and given the opportunity to fill existing job vacancies. The government has a national plan to ensure young people are skilled in the occupations where there is the greatest need," Senator Evans said.
Chairman of the Government's National Resources Sector Employment Taskforce, Parliamentary Secretary for Western and Northern Australia Gary Gray, welcomed the new SOL and said it would address the needs of the resources sector.
"The taskforce has met with resource sector employers across the country and the clear message is that we need a targeted approach to migration," Gray said. The government recognises the proposed changes would affect some overseas students currently in Australia intending to apply for permanent residence.
The introduction of the new SOL does not change the concessions announced in February which provide generous transition arrangements for former and current international students seeking a visa under the General Skilled Migration (GSM) programme. People who have already applied for a GSM visa would not be affected by the implementation of the new SOL. The changes would in no way affect international students coming to Australia to gain a qualification and then return home.