Skilled migrants and refugees could help fix Australia’s tech skills shortage and they’re already here and willing to work, according to a new report from the Australian Computer Society (ACS) and Settlement Services International (SSI) which is encouraging businesses to tap into the vast talents that have called Australia home.

The Billion Dollar Benefit: Welcoming Tech Talent report laments the fact that, despite IT being one of the most common qualifications among migrants, only two per cent of skilled migrants already living in Australia work in the ICT sector.

Australia needs 60,000 tech workers to enter the workforce each year to keep up with projected demand yet there are only 7,000 students graduating with IT degrees each year.

Skilled migrants and refugees thus provide a great opportunity to cover this shortfall and help organisations around the country shore up their tech skills, ACS and SSI said in their report, yet as a country we have largely failed to do so.

“In the tech sector, with our chronic shortage of skilled workers, we need to ensure we are making the most of the talents and experience of recent arrivals from overseas,” said ACS CEO Chris Vein.

“As we highlighted in our 2023 Digital Pulse survey of the nation’s tech skills, we are facing a major crisis as Australia struggles to meet the challenges of the AI-driven economy and we need all parts of the community – government, busines,s and education – to come together to come up with a co-ordinated strategy that realises the potential of all Australians.”

Billion Dollar Benefit not only points out the importance of better utilising our top migrant talent, it also helps guide employers through the process from understanding visa statuses to making a more inclusive workplace.

Sadly, many migrants find it difficult getting into Australia’s tech workforce.

Uncertainty around working rights, language barriers, and unconscious bias can all play a role in stopping an employer from hiring a migrant or refugee.

Not only does this mean highly sought after skills are underused, but the employer misses out on the benefits of building diverse and inclusive teams which the ACS and SSI report notes are 10 times more likely to be innovative.

For people like Syrian-born Abd Almassih Alsaad, the tech skills shortage should have meant Australia was the perfect place for him to find work after fleeing his civil war in his homeland.

Abd Almassih has over 20 years of IT experience as a programmer and business owner working with big business and government.

Yet since finding a new safe home here in 2022, he has been unable to find work.

“I love IT,” he said. “It’s my area of expertise, my specialty.”

“I’ve found that many IT employers won’t acknowledge a degree from overseas, thinking it’s not strong enough, and often insist on a local degree from Australia.

“I am even being rejected for volunteering unpaid roles in the industry.”

The Billion Dollar Benefit report encourages employers to rethink their hiring practices and stop overemphasising local experience.

It also wants to see more businesses overcome their unconscious bias by developing an internal culture that questions assumptions.

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said employers will do well to just give people a chance to show what they can do.

“Talent is distributed equally, but opportunity is not,” she said. “Many migrants and refugees in Australia are highly skilled and bring a wealth of tech expertise, qualifications and experience from their countries of origin.

“They just need the opportunity to showcase those tech skills in workplaces.”

You can read the guide and follow its 10 tips for welcoming tech talent at the SSI website.