A long and complex visa system is driving many skilled workers to abandon Australia and look to other nations for work.

Speaking to an audience at Australian Financial Review Workforce Summit, at the Hilton Sydney on Wednesday, the Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security Clare O’Neil said the system is inadequate, archaic, and is in need of urgent reform.

“Our migration system has been on continental drift for a decade. We have a broken system that is unstrategic, complex, expensive, and slow.

“And it’s not delivering for business, migrants, or for our population.”

While there has been a staggering increase in issuing temporary visas, skilled migration has fallen.

Australia’s share of the global pool of skilled migrants has almost halved over the past three decades.

O’Neil has vowed to fix a ‘backward’ system that has remained relatively unchanged since the nineties.

Highly valued migrants from around the world face these issues coming to Australia, O’Neil said, yet they’re given red carpet treatment migrating elsewhere.

“Many will go to places like Canada. We can’t let that continue and the government doesn’t intend to do so.”

Minister O’Neil has asked the government to increase skilled migration rate to195,000 in the budget this year.

“We are losing people and we’re not the favourite destination for many of the world’s skilled migrants. If your skills are in demand across the world, you’ve got a choice between Canada where the visa application is fast, or here – a 6 months to 12 months visa approval wait.”

In November 2022, the minister brought together a team from cabinet to work with migration experts to review Australia's migration system.

“We invite people to come to our country, and we want them to invest and build a life here. Our uncapped, unplanned temporary program is the centrepiece and driver of our migration system. The fact is, it’s the source of huge problems.”

Since 2005, the number of net skilled permanent migrants coming to Australia each year is approximately 30,000 people.

The number of temporary migrants, however, has exploded.

In 2007, there were one million temporary migrants in Australia, excluding visitor and transit visas.

Today the number is 1.9 million. The largest group is students at 22 per cent. Only six per cent of this is skilled migrants which Australia desperately need to fill shortages in areas in such, tech, health care and renewable energy.

“Right now it’s relatively easy for a low-skill, temporary migrant to come to Australia, but difficult, slow and not particularly attractive for a high-skill, permanent migrant to come here.

We’ve got the system backwards,” O’Neil said.

Since taking on the role eight months ago, the minister said the backlog of visa applicants have been cut from one million applications to 580,000 waiting to be processed.

Migration structure reform on the way

Many businesses called on the government for a substantial reform to the migration system, resulting in the establishment of Jobs and Skills Australia.

Business owners are also calling for reforms to speed up intercompany transfers.

“What is clearly required here is structural reform. We are looking at big changes that will drive a new model for migration in Australia,” O’Neil said.

“The most important issue is to articulate a clear definition of why our migration system exists, and what problems we want it to solve.”

Some of the main changes under the Migration Review include:

· Redesign the fundamental structure of the migration system, and rebalance the temporary and permanent programs.

· Remove policies which create ‘permanently temporary’ conditions, by being clear on where migration is truly temporary and managing this fairly.

· Sharper focus on skills with a clear strategy behind who is applying, and where they will come from and implement a streamlined process that doesn’t frighten visa applicants from coming. Actively sell Australia to skilled migrants.

· Unlock migrant potential and recognise migrants’ existing skills when they arrive. Increase support to translate the skills of secondary applicants and others into the labour market.

· Coordinate and integrate the needs of the labour market, training and education and the migration system.

A draft of the new migration system will be released for consultation and discussion in April 2023.