Migration


Recommendation Summary

  • Set the cap for permanent migration at 190,000 and sufficiently resource the processing to achieve outcomes close to the cap. Caps for future years should be set according to the evidence of maximum benefit, including an assessment of economic, fiscal and demographic outcomes.
  • Allocate sufficient resources to address the extensive delays in the processing of visa applications, including in the labour agreement stream  Improve access to temporary and permanent skilled migration for regional employers
  • Promote better community understanding of the value of skilled migration
  • Improve education and access to information relating to rights and obligations under Australian labour laws
  • Halve the SAF Migration levies to improve access to skilled migration
  • Disconnect the SAF levy from the COAG skills partnership agreement, and guarantee funding for apprenticeships at the announced levels
  • Improve the refund policy for the SAF levy so that a refund is available in all cases where the application has not been successful
  • Promote better community understanding of the value of skilled migration
  • Ensure visa fees and arrangements are internationally competitive
  • Improve education and access to information relating to rights and obligations under Australian labour laws.
  • Establish a complementary program for employer organisations and trade unions to provide employment information in LOTE to groups of businesses/workers from migrant communities to redress the information gap for such communities.
  • Fund business organisations to work with migrant run businesses to provide business to business information on employment law obligations and liabilities. There also be reciprocal / matching funding available to unions to improve their interactions with migrant workers.
  • Ensure labour market information is up-to-date and accurate by reviewing Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) immediately and allocate funds for the review.

1. Maintain the permanent migrant intake

Migration Works for All of Us sets out a detailed case demonstrating the benefits delivered by permanent migration, particularly given the strong component in the intake that are younger skilled migrants. Well educated migrants deliver net economic and fiscal benefits, and any reduction in the intake is a cost to the Federal Budget.

Policy Recommendation:

  • Set the cap for permanent migration at 190,000 and sufficient resource the processing to achieve outcomes close to the cap. Caps for future years should be set according to the evidence of maximum benefit, including an assessment of economic, fiscal and demographic outcomes.

2. Improve access to temporary and permanent skilled migration

The Government should ensure all skilled occupations on the skilled migration occupation lists are available for sponsorship by regional employers through an expanded Regional Occupations List, as is currently the case with the interim Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) list. This implies all skilled occupations will become available to both permanent as well as temporary skilled migration with a pathway to permanency but only to regional employers. This creates a positive bias towards regional migration and embeds the connection between the migrant and the regional community through the employer sponsored migration streams (which have the best economic outcomes).

Policy Recommendation: 

  • Allocate sufficient resources to address the extensive delays in the processing of visa applications, including in the labour agreement stream
  • Improve access to temporary and permanent skilled migration for regional employers.

3. Migration Training Levy

Although a training levy was recommended by the 457 Visa Integrity Review in 2014 to replace the previous training benchmarks used in the migration program, the mechanism and quantum of the SAF levy applying to skilled migration was an unwelcome 2017 budget “surprise. The amounts announced in May 2017 ($1,200 per year for small businesses and $1,800 per year for large businesses) were well in excess of the Review’s recommendation of $400 per visa holder per annum. In addition, it was subsequently announced that these temporary skilled migration annual training levies would be paid upfront for the whole term of the visa, which was also against the recommendation of the Integrity Review which had recommended annual invoicing. The Budget also announced a training levy for employers using the permanent Employer Nomination Scheme visa of $3,000 (small) to $5,000 (large business) paid at commencement.

The quantum of these levies and how they are applied have had a material impact on access to the migration program. Although there was some shift in the refund policy in the 2018 budget, it is still inequitable that a sponsoring employer cannot obtain a refund of the training levy if their application is unsuccessful other than on health or character grounds. A refund of the training levy should be available in all cases where the application has not been successful.

The hypothecation of the levy to the Skilling Australians Fund, recommended by the Integrity Panel (but at a much lower level) was never intended to be a replacement for monies already invested by the Commonwealth on VET. The use of the fund to strike a new COAG skills partnership agreement given that the previous agreement was funded out of consolidated revenue was an illustration of the decline in investment in VET by the Federal Government. The connection between the fund and the agreement has not worked – it was poor policy from the outset, and the outcomes have demonstrated this. It created funding uncertainty which impacted on the outcomes of the negotiations for a partnership agreement. It also creates a problem in addressing the quantum of the levies which should be half of what they are currently.

Policy Recommendation: 

  • Halve the SAF Migration levies to improve access to skilled migration
  • Disconnect the SAF levy from the COAG skills partnership agreement, and guarantee funding for apprenticeships at the announced levels
  • Improve the refund policy for the SAF levy so that a refund is available in all cases where the application has not been successful

4. Promote better community understanding of the value of skilled migration

Much of the recent commentary around migration has been negative, reflecting a superficial understanding of the facts and ignores the strong evidence in support of a balanced and sustainable migration program. The Federal Government, working with state and territory governments and key stakeholders, should develop and implement a communications strategy that strongly reinforces the benefits of migration and need for a balanced migration program. The strategy should also focus on the major skilled migration cohorts, international students and working holidaymakers, in order to educate the community on the enormous and multi-faceted benefits they bring to Australia.

The Government needs to take a leadership position in the migration debate to emphasise the benefits of migration to the broader economy including to influential commentators.

Policy Recommendation: 

  • Promote better community understanding of the value of skilled migration

5. Visa Fees

Visitation and migration deliver major economic benefits to Australia. But tourists and migrants have choices. In order to continue to be an attractive destination, it is important that the quantum of visa fees and the application process remain internationally competitive. In recent years, we have seen visa fees rise in real terms.

Policy Recommendation: 

  • Ensure visa fees and arrangements are internationally competitive.

6. Dedicated information program for employers and migrants to understand obligations and rights under Australian labour laws

Australia has a strong regulatory framework to protect workers, with all employees entitled to the same rights and protections no matter whether or not they are Australian citizens. However the Australian workplace relations system is complex particularly for both employers and employees who are unfamiliar with it.

While the Government and its Departments have already taken steps to increase enforcement powers and penalties for non-compliance with workplace laws and invest in resources aimed at increasing awareness, more is needed to improve education and awareness amongst both employers and employees. Australia must ensure that the almost one million temporary migrant workers, who are often young, inexperienced and with low English proficiency, are informed and equipped to inquire, speak out and ring the alarm bell before problems persist and minor issues become substantial and persistent.

A dedicated advertising campaign and information program in languages other than English (LOTE) should be funded to better inform migrant workers and their employers on employment rights and obligations, and the protections our system offers. This would work to inform and increase their understanding of employment rights and entitlements under Australian labour laws, and to correct myths and misapprehensions that are stopping migrant employees from asking questions and securing their entitlements. This would complement enhanced enforcement and penalty structures by ensuring migrant employees are familiar with their employment rights and more secure in raising concerns early. Often, employers of migrant workers come from migrant communities themselves and they and their employees could benefit from better education about their legal obligations regarding pay and conditions through innovative information programs in the languages in which business and employment is undertaken.

This is part of a wider message to government from employers that more needs to be done to promote our employment laws and increase both employer and employee understanding of broad rights under the system and where to go for information, and to ensure obligations are being applied correctly. Within an overall framework of budget responsibility and control on spending, better promoting an understanding across our community of employment rights and obligations (and where to go for information and support) seems one area where government can and should spend more money to deliver a critically important outcome.

In considering this recommendation for an ad campaign, we ask that government note:

  • Pay compliance will bring higher PAYE taxes to government.
  • Improved compliance, day-to-day, should see fewer / lesser calls on government in insolvencies through the FEG scheme.

Policy Recommendations: 

  • Improve education and access to information relating to rights and obligations under Australian labour laws.  Establish a complementary program for employer organisations and trade unions to provide employment information in LOTE to groups of businesses/workers from migrant communities to redress the information gap for such communities.

7. Fund business organisations to work with migrant businesses to improve compliance

Another important target should be more work to break down linguistic and cultural barriers to migrant / LOTE speaker run businesses understanding their employment obligations and meeting them. Government should offer a tender for organisations in the business community to hire / contract legal expertise with language skills to enable them to speak to migrant businesses in LOTE. Translation is important, but it is not enough and many communities have ingrained fear and suspicion of the state. Such businesses will not trust a regulator briefing, the point of difference here is that it would be frank, business to business information with no risk of prosecution. The FWO maintains data on the primary languages spoken by complainants which could be used to prioritise efforts / target groups.

Policy Recommendations:

  • Fund business organisations to work with migrant run businesses, and to provide business to business information, behind closed doors on employment law obligations and liabilities. There also be reciprocal / matching funding available to unions to improve their interactions with migrant workers.

8. Review Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO)

One of the pillars of labour market statistical infrastructure is the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO). This infrastructure underpins a wide range of labour market data, including information from the Census, and is used for job outlook information and to regulate which occupations are eligible for migration programmes.

Despite major changes to the economy and jobs, including new jobs driven by technology as well as changes to the level of skill needed in certain jobs, ANZSCO has only been reviewed twice since its introduction in 2006 (having transitioned from the previous ASCO codes). A major review of ANZSCO is long overdue. However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), custodians of the statistical product are unable to commence a review due to labour and resource constraints and competing priorities. Regular review of major statistical infrastructure such as the ANZSCO needs to built into the normal operating budget of the ABS. The ABS has not even committed to a review in the future, only that it will be considered post the 2021 Census process.

All occupations are experiencing technological progress and the nature of work and job roles are constantly changing. ANZSCO not only identifies new jobs, but it also appraises the duties within their job and assigns an appropriate skill level. A large number of stakeholders across the economy share our concerns, including colleagues from Business NZ. The 2018 OECD Report on Getting Skills Right in Australia also highlighted the need to update the ANZSCO since emerging occupations such as cyber security, artificial intelligence experts and others were not included in the current classification.

According to the ABS Forward Work Program released October 2018, the resource required to fully implement the review, is $4 million.

Policy Recommendation: 

Ensure labour market information is up-to-date and accurate by reviewing Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) immediately and allocate funds for the review.