Posted on August 7, 2014

Call for Migration Rort Crackdown as Data Reveals Foreign Workers Snare Net Job Growth

Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker, Canberra Times, August 7, 2014

A new report using fresh federal government data has found recent overseas-born arrivals to Australia have “taken almost all of the net job growth” since 2011.

Immigration experts Dr Bob Birrell and Dr Ernest Healy have obtained fresh Australian Bureau of Statistics information showing that 380,000 arrivals to Australia since 2011 had found jobs. But over the same period, net job growth in Australia was only 400,000.

The pair have called for changes to Australia’s skilled migrant program in order to provide more opportunities for citizens and permanent residents.

They found that Australia continues to grant skilled migration visas to thousands of foreign cooks and accountants. This is despite an excess of local candidates suitable for those jobs, and government claims the migration program is attracting workers who have skills required by Australia.

Confidential Immigration Department documents obtained by Fairfax Media reveal that many of those foreign workers who have gained permanent residency in Australia through skilled migration programs are likely to have first arrived as students in suspected fraudulent international education schemes operating between 2006 and 2010.

An October 2009 department report made the startling finding that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship “may have been responsible for granting a record number of student visas to people who may not be considered genuine students as well as granting permanent residence to skilled migration applicants who do not have the appropriate skills being claimed.”

Despite recent changes to make it harder to rort [game] the student visa and skilled migration programs, high-level concerns remain about international education providers and visa fraud.

Fairfax Media believes the Immigration Department’s education visa consultative committee has recently discussed employer-sponsored migration rorts.

In their report, titled Immigration and Unemployment, Dr Birrell and Dr Healy call for the halting of the recruitment of migrant workers whose occupations are in surplus in Australia or have available resident candidates.

The pair–both from Monash University’s Centre for Population and Urban Research–found Australia’s job market had been creating only about 100,000 positions per year since the end of the mining boom in mid-2011. But unchanged foreign worker migration policies have led to the current situation where the number of people looking for jobs in Australia far outstrips the amount of positions available.

Immigration Department data used in Dr Birrell and Dr Healy’s research shows overseas-born cooks and accountants made up the leading occupations granted visas under the permanent entry skill program in 2012-13.

Almost 8450 cooks, as well as 1022 pastry chefs and bakers, were given visas under the permanent entry skill program in 2012-13. For the same period, cooks also made up the largest occupational group given temporary 457 visas.

This was despite cooking not having been on the federal government’s skilled occupation list for more than four years.

Their report also highlighted how Australia granted visas under the permanent resident skilled program and 457 category to nearly 7000 foreign accountants in 2012-13.

This was despite 7200 domestic students completing bachelor or higher degrees in accounting in 2012, and the Commonwealth Department of Employment declaring “a more than adequate supply of accountants”.

Dr Birrell said Australia’s immigration program also encouraged rorting of the different visa categories to obtain permanent residency rather than educational outcomes, and the exploitation of foreign workers.

“The whole system needs to be reviewed fundamentally,” he said.

The labour force problems highlighted by Dr Birrell are a hangover from the widespread fraud in the student visa and skilled migration programs that are identified in a series of confidential Immigration Department documents obtained by Fairfax Media.

The documents show how Immigration Department investigators repeatedly highlighted their concerns about student visa and skilled migration visa rorts between 2006 and 2010. But their calls for more enforcement and resources to tackle the problem went unheeded for years.

An October 2009 “in-confidence” Immigration Department report identified “significant concerns” in Victoria’s international educational industry and “in particular, related pathways to permanent residence”.

The report warned: “The department’s investigators reported that foreign students were paying about $50,000 to achieve permanent residency through a ‘significant cottage industry’ involving ‘migration agents, employers and education providers who are linked to a significant level of organised fraud and crime.”‘

The former federal Labor government made changes in 2011 to clamp down on the rorting of the student visa program to obtain permanent residency by introducing a new points test for skilled migrants.

But Dr Birrell said the decision to shield the thousands of foreign students already here from the impact of the reforms and to continue to allow them to apply for residency under the old rules has resulted in the “warehousing” of a large number of low-priority applicants.

He said many of these had studied cooking courses and had only begun to be processed by the Immigration Department in 2011-12.

“This is why cooks and accountants have been the major occupations visaed in this and in subsequent years. We know this because the visa-issued data identifies those who were former overseas students,” Dr Birrell said.