The government is looking at wholesale reform of the migration system after ongoing visa processing delays exacerbated the country’s skilled labour shortage.
An upcoming ‘comprehensive review’ of the migration system was listed in the recent Jobs Summit outcomes, alongside an increase of the total migration cap to 195,000 people.
On the weekend, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil telegraphed the results of that review, telling the Nine metropolitan papers “all the rules that we use to decide who comes in [to Australia] and who doesn’t aren’t working”.
“The way we define skills shortages is totally broken,” she said. “I think it is universally recognised that this is not serving the country’s needs.”
Home Affairs leans heavily on guidance from the National Skills Commission about skills shortages and occupations that should be a priority for migration.
It was through the National Skills Commission that four extra IT jobs were added to the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List last year – but the list hasn’t been updated in over 12 months.
The new government’s first order of business was to introduce legislation for the creation of Jobs and Skills Australia, an agency that will replace the National Skills Commission as the main source of jobs advice to government.
Since coming into office, the government has regularly pointed to the migration system as a major failure of its predecessor after it emerged that some visa streams were waiting up to 15 months for processing.
Part of the migration overhaul is expected to be technological upgrades to the visa processing system.
O’Neil’s department tried to prioritise some 60,000 skilled visas to help the backlog but is now concerned that the ability to process applications will continue to have negative flow-on effects for businesses.
“All the developed countries around the world are fighting for the same skills and capabilities and right now,” O’Neil told the Nine papers.
“Australia is not going to be a destination of choice because it takes too long, it’s too expensive, and even if you make it here, you probably can’t stay. We need to rethink that.”
Other countries like New Zealand are trying to entice skilled professionals by making it easier to gain permanent residency and lowering the expectations of employers wanting to import staff.
Migration system changes won’t just be about encouraging people to Australia, however.
On the weekend, O’Neil suggested the significant investor visa – which gives a pathway to permanent residency for people who invest at least $5 million in the country – is likely to be binned from as early as next month.
Since 2012, over 2,300 visas have been granted through the significant investor program, with total investment from applicants exceeding $11 billion, according to Home Affairs data.
Unlike other migration schemes, there are no English language requirements for significant investors.
Around 85 per cent of significant investor visas have come from China.
“I think most Australians would be pretty offended by the idea that we've got a visa category here where effectively you can buy your way into the country,” O'Neil told Sky News on the weekend.
"I don't see a lot of great benefits to the country currently."