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12 Dec 2023

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Migration reform is critical to address Australia’s future challenges

Reforms announced yesterday could bring Australia closer towards realising a migration program that meets the needs of industry, employers and migrants alike, while retaining our reputation as a destination of choice, according to leading non-profit organisation Settlement Services International (SSI).

Migration has an important role to play in our nation’s future.

The Federal government has released a Migration Strategy outlining a new vision for Australia’s migration system, with a policy roadmap containing eight key actions and over 25 new policy commitments and areas for future reform.

“Migration has an important role to play in our nation’s future. With an ageing population and skills shortages across many professions and industries, it is critical that we have a migration program that meets the needs of Australian industry and employers, but also migrants themselves, to retain Australia’s reputation as a destination of choice,” said SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis.

She said she particularly welcomed the focus on improving Australia’s approach to skills recognition and assessment to better unlock the potential of migrants and refugees.

“The difficulty in having qualifications and skills recognised in Australia means many skilled refugees and migrants in Australia are resorting to jobs well below their skill level. This is a loss to individuals – who compromise on their dreams and quality of life – but also to the economy,” she said.

“We could add $5 billion to the economy each year by easing occupational licensing, and recover an additional $1.25 billion over five years by properly utilising the capacity of skilled migrants. This is the focus of our advocacy in this space, the Billion Dollar Benefit campaign, highlighting that this really is a win-win for both the individual and the economy.

“We are seeing cases such as in engineering, where at any given time, Australia has over 30,000 engineering vacancies. Meanwhile, half of overseas-born engineers are either unemployed or working in other sectors. This is reflected across many other areas experiencing skills shortages, including tech and the care and support economy.”

Ms Roumeliotis said she commended the government for taking steps to improve skills assessment processes through enhanced assurance, standards and reporting, while also reforming the skills assessment sector and reducing its complexity.

“We hope to see this further progress that addresses the current complexity and fragmentation of assessment processes for migration and employment purposes,” Ms Roumeliotis said.

“And as the strategy acknowledges, we have almost 40 different authorities governing this process for 650 professions. The Productivity Commission has described Australia’s skills assessment and recognition scheme as complex, time-consuming and bureaucratic. With these reforms, we have the opportunity to change that.”

Ms Roumeliotis said SSI’s own research had found that Australia’s complex skills and recognition process particularly affected women, finding refugee women and migrant women often lagged behind other women in the Australian labour market, despite their relatively high level of skills and qualifications.

“It is encouraging to see recognition in this Strategy of the need for concrete action to unlock the economic potential of migrant and refugee women. We look forward to seeing further detail from the government in this area and working with them to address this,” she said.

Ms Roumeliotis said a safe and supportive migration system must include robust measures to address exploitation, mistreatment and harassment of newcomers, and it was welcome to see such emphasis on tackling exploitation in the new strategy.

“We need a system that is simpler, fairer and gives people equal opportunities to build a safe and happy future in Australia. This strategy sets a vision for a more equitable, fairer migration system underpinned by robust policy settings,” she said.

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