Migration Not Helping Skills Shortage

Guy Healy, Australian (Sydney), Oct. 16, 2008

The Immigration Department has admitted tertiary enrolments are failing to meet state and territory demands for graduates in mining, construction and nursing, despite an overhaul of the skilled migration system to meet the labour shortage.

The surge in vocational education and training and intensive English-language courses for overseas students was in areas “which appear to be outside those demanded”, senior Immigration official Peter Speldewinde told a Brisbane conference.

The skilled immigration category was revamped last year to give greater emphasis to speaking English and developing skills among the tens of thousands of overseas students who now go on to form a key plank of the permanent skilled migration program every year.

Registered nurses, dentists, engineers, radiographers, urban planners, occupational therapists, electricians, bakers, bricklayers, mechanics, carpenters and chefs are among the top 20 occupational shortage areas identified by the states and territories.

But Immigration Department data shows overseas students under the skilled immigration category are flocking instead into hospitality management, welfare studies, hairdressing, accounting, cookery and computing.

There were almost 11,000 course commencements in hospitality, almost 2000 in welfare studies and almost 1500 in hairdressing, all winning valuable points towards permanent residency.

Mr Speldewinde, the department’s skilled-migration director, told educators at the conference last Friday that it was “clear there are not so much loopholes, but areas in which (earning) points probably stimulate people to go down certain paths”.

“Clearly the Migrant Occupation on Demand List (under which migrants get points toward permanent residency) is driving very, very strongly migrants’ choices,” he said.

Mr Speldewinde said the system was under review to conform with Immigration Minister Chris Evans’s aim of ensuring the selection of high-quality skilled migrants who will more directly address labour market shortages.

“The focus is on quality, not quantity,” he said.

Two of the key architects of last year’s reforms, Monash University demographer Bob Birrell, and National Institute of Labour Studies director Sue Richardson, yesterday described as a mixed success the effort to recruit skilled migrants instead of educating younger Australians.

Dr Birrell told The Australian “the surge in skilled migration program is not delivering the skills needed in mining and construction industries, and that’s the Government’s main concern”.

“More than half the skilled immigrants are settling in Sydney and Melbourne,” not in Queensland and Western Australia where they are needed, he said.

Dr Birrell—a fierce critic of aspects of the migration program—said that despite the sobering assessment from Mr Speldewinde, Australia was “likely to get better-equipped migrants and it’s a good thing Labor has stuck by this initiative of former (Coalition) minister (Kevin) Andrews”.

“The acknowledgement the system is not serving the country is quite striking, as is vocational education overtaking higher education because it’s an easier and cheaper route to permanent residency,” he said.

Professor Richardson told The Australian she was concerned that more than half our population growth was now coming from migration rather than births.

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