Australia’s temporary skilled migration program is hard for businesses to use while still not protecting migrants from exploitation.
The long-standing practice of restricting temporary sponsorship to occupations classified as “in shortage” should be abandoned. Instead, temporary sponsorship should be reserved for higher-wage jobs in any occupation.
Occupation classifications are inflexible
The National Skills Commission (which advises the federal government on workforce skills needed) and the Department of Home Affairs (which oversees visa programs) use them to compile three lists of skills wanted by Australia’s skilled migration schemes. One list is focused on short-term needs, another on longer-term needs and the third on skills needed in regional areas.
Deﬁning needed skills by occupation, however, is an inﬂexible way to meet shortages in a rapidly changing labour market – and flexibility is the very thing temporary skilled migration programs are meant to provide.
This rigidity is becoming ever more of a problem as more highly skilled service industries develop. New tasks and roles take time to be classiﬁed as ofﬁcial occupations. For example, ANZSCO didn’t recognise the developing and in-demand profession of “data scientist” as an occupation until September 2019.
An occupation ‘shortage’ is hard to measure
For occupations that do exist, deciding which are “in shortage” isn’t clear-cut.
when employers are unable to ﬁll or have considerable difﬁculty ﬁlling vacancies for an occupation, or signiﬁcant specialised skill needs within that occupation, at current levels of remuneration and conditions of employment, and in reasonably accessible locations.
This is unsound. Wages change over time. Wages for a job where demand is greater than supply will probably increase relative to other jobs. Pegging the definition to “current levels of renumeration” will overstate the roles in which there is a genuine shortage.
But even with a better definition, Australian policy makers would still lack the data – such as timely vacancy and wage data for each of the 1,000 occupations – to identify skills shortages in real time.
Without this information it is difﬁcult to see what, beyond input from industry lobby groups, determines which occupations become eligible for temporary sponsorship.
Not all jobs within an occupation are equal
A system that looks at occupations rather than jobs also misses crucial parts of the story.
A senior accountant working for a multinational corporation in a capital city and a graduate accountant working for a local business in a country town have the same occupation. But the level of education and experience, responsibilities and remuneration offered for each job will vary dramatically.