The wages of Australian IT professionals should not be undercut by migration policies that would allow employers to openly import skilled workers based on wage thresholds, the Australian Computer Society (ACS) argued in its submission to a review of the migration system.

“Maintaining high wages for Australians should be a priority for the Australian government,” ACS said.

“Minimum income requirements for migrant workers in particular roles could provide a solution, but would be problematic as there is no one-size-fits-all wage threshold.”

The government has committed to an overhaul of the migration system amid concerns that slow visa processing times are hampering the country’s ability to globally compete for talent.

An interim report is due to be handed down early this year.

Business lobby groups are arguing for income thresholds to be the primary mechanism for determining whether someone is eligible for skilled migration, instead of based on the current wage-agnostic system using skilled occupation lists that let the government strategically prioritise certain jobs for migration.

In its submission to the migration review, the Business Council of Australia recommended “open eligibility” for jobs with a salary above the full-time average weekly earnings which sits around $92,000 a year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The Tech Council of Australia – a lobby group for Australian tech companies and the local arms of giants like Google, Microsoft, and AWS – agrees on that position with its CEO Kate Pounder telling the Nine papers last week that businesses are “probably much better placed to assess whether someone has sophisticated machine-learning skills or product-management skills than a third-party assessor”.

ACS, which is the nominated third-party assessor for ICT skilled migration, notes that income thresholds around the average earnings mark may be appropriate for certain industries – like teaching and nursing – but for high-paying IT roles, the proposal risks undercutting the wages of Australian IT professionals.

On average, the minimum average advertised salary for technology jobs in 2021 was $107,778, according to the ACS Guide to IT Professions 2022 report, with frontline IT support workers more likely to be around the $92,000 mark.

For software developers and cyber security specialists – roles with high demand from employers – the average salary in 2021 was much higher at around $117,000 and $120,000 respectively.

“Strategic needs cannot simply be bucketed into wage brackets,” ACS said in its submission.

“We need workers across the wage spectrum, and ACS cannot see an unproblematic or workable way to use wages as a proxy for strategic need.

“At best such a model would need to have very messy per-occupation thresholds, or alternatively distort the intention of skilled migration to fill strategic gaps in the Australian skills market.”

Keep the IT migrants coming

ACS has argued to continue prioritising IT workers for migration and wants to see improvements made to the migration system.

“In the short term, IT professionals need to remain a high priority for migration inputs and processing,” ACS said.

“IT touches every business and every industry, is a key enabler of productivity growth, and Australian employers are desperate for skilled professionals to fill in gaps left by a weak domestic pipeline.”

ACS was among the IT bodies left surprised when the government deprioritised importing cyber security experts and developers despite ongoing skills shortages late last year.

Massive migration processing backlogs and long wait times have been a serious problem for local businesses who are desperate for workers.

“Current long visa processing times are proving problematic in this stream,” ACS said in its submission to the review.

“An employer typically cannot wait for months to onboard a sponsored employee.

“Even though wait times for the processing of employer-sponsored visas is substantially shorter than independent visas, it is still not uncommon for wait times to exceed six months.”

ACS argued that employer sponsorships should be prioritised over other streams to help get these workers into jobs faster.

ACS also argued for greater data about people once they arrive in the country in order to help provide employment and networking services.

“The Australian government does not currently undertake effective tracking of migrant outcomes, nor does it engage meaningfully in remediation of poor outcomes,” ACS said in its submission.

“There is potential to do a far better job of tracking the journeys of migrants coming into the country, including: issues with accommodation and acclimation, employment outcomes and experiences, wages and income.

“Simple reporting requirements for migrants could help gather qualitative and quantitative data.”

More than 20 per cent of permanent skilled migrants to Australia were working below their skill level 18 months after arrival between 2013 and 2018, according to the Department of Home Affairs’ Continuous Survey of Australia’s Migrants.

The result of mismatched migrant skills, warned a 2021 report from the Committee for Economic Development in Australia (CEDA), is billions of dollars in lost wages and a situation in which people with much-needed skillsets end up driving Ubers to make ends meet.

To help improve migrant employment outcomes, ACS said it wants to see the government explore “job-readiness programs for migrants who may be struggling to attain work once they have arrived”.

Data from Treasury estimates permanent skilled migrants contribute on average $198,000 each to state and commonwealth coffers over their lifetime, compared with citizens who cost an average of $85,000 each.