The government will prioritise the permanent visa applications of nearly 60,000 skilled workers currently living overseas as it looks to get on top of a major migration backlog.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil told ABC Radio National the prioritisation was about bringing more people into Australia to fill much-needed jobs across the economy.

“A lot of the people who are given visas to work in Australia are actually already here,” she said.

“If we continue to operate that way, of course we’re not going to address the skills crisis.

“So, the change is prioritising people who are offshore who are wanting to come here to work, and working through those applications as quickly as we can.”

Wait times for visas had blown out to upwards of 15 months for some temporary skills shortage streams as the Department of Home Affairs struggled to deal with an uptick of demand combined with an $875 million budget shortfall left by the previous government.

During her ABC interview on Wednesday, O’Neil said the government would prioritise frontline workers in healthcare, nursing, and teaching.

“These are areas which are a pivotal priority for us,” she said.

“So, we will continue to process applications across the economy, but we do need to address this really urgent need in particular for health care workers.”

Information Age has asked the Department of Home Affairs to provide a breakdown of which economic areas would be prioritised, and how many of the almost 60,000 visas being prioritised are for skilled IT migrants.

After nearly a decade on the sidelines, the Labor government is signalling reform of the current skilled migration system.

O’Neil pointed to September’s Jobs and Skills Summit: a gathering of employers, unions, governments, and civil society groups aimed at finding solutions for Australia’s economic problems.

“We’re working as hard as we can into September,” she said.

“Then I think we want to have a big discussion with civil society, with unions, and with business about whether this migration program is actually suitable for the needs of our modern economy, and what we might want to do to shift it.”

Prior to the election, Labor refused to say if it would raise Australia’s permanent migration levels above the 160,000 cap that was lowered by 30,000 in 2019.

During a debate in May, current Treasurer Jim Chalmers said migration “should never be a substitute for training people”.

“Too often in the public conversation about skills and migration, people pretend it’s one or the other when in reality, of course, it’s a mix of both,” he said.