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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Paul Karp

Migration rebound slowed by Australians leaving the country since borders reopened

A congested street in the Sydney CBD
The flow of Australians holidaying or moving overseas for work almost equals the migration rebound since borders reopened, Deloitte Access Economics says. Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP

Australia’s migration rebound since reopening its borders is being slowed by an almost equal flow of Australians holidaying or moving overseas for work.

That is one finding of a Deloitte Access Economics employment forecast, to be released on Monday, which adds to calls before the jobs and skills summit to improve pathways to permanency for skilled migrants.

The Deloitte report notes “there are now only slightly more unemployed people than job vacancies” and says those record job vacancies could be a “great opportunity” to expand the humanitarian visa program.

More than 29,000 people arrived in the three months to December 2021 – the first net increase since the onset of Covid – although this only reverses about one-quarter of the 113,000 people lost to overseas migration in the previous 18 months.

The Deloitte report noted this was a “good first step” and a “turning point in Australia’s population and labour supply fortunes”.

“Currently, for every permanent or long-term arrival in Australia there are 0.9 departures – well above the ratio of 0.65 departures per arrival seen prior to the pandemic.

“Despite this ratio being elevated, there are still more people arriving permanently or long-term in Australia than there are leaving – a strong indication that net overseas migration in Australia was positive through the first half of 2022.”

Separate to the Deloitte report, the government released the top 10 in demand professions for Australia over the next five years, based on the skills priority list, data on job vacancies and projected growth in employment.

Construction managers, civil engineering professionals, early childhood teachers, registered nurses, ICT and system analysts and software and application programmers top the list, with electricians, chefs, child carers and aged and disabled carers rounding it out.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said the government’s promised 465,000 fee-free Tafe places would help address some skills shortages.

“Our goal is to build a strong VET sector to help more Australians get secure, well-paying jobs, while providing the skilled workers that business needs to grow our economy,” he said.

“Next week we are hosting our Jobs and Skills Summit that will brings together unions, business groups and the people who help run our world-class VET sector, to look at how we deliver immediate action on the skills shortages Australia is facing.”

A Deloitte partner, Fiona Webb, said the “highest order priority” of Australia’s migration settings at the summit to be held in Canberra was “to clearly signal to the world that Australia is open for business”.

Skilled migrants “want to know they will be able to get in and out of the country without complication and have greater certainty about longer term options to remain in Australia”.

A Deloitte partner and the report’s lead author, David Rumbens, said “migration comes in many forms, and while skilled migrants have been a recent key focus for business and the media, there are also other streams that can enhance Australia’s pool of labour”.

“We have a great opportunity to expand our existing humanitarian migration program, with the longer-term economic and social benefits of doing so profound.”

The Albanese government is considering increasing Australia’s migration intake from 160,000 to 200,000.

While business and unions agree on the need for an increase, unions are pushing a range of conditions including a dramatic increase in the pay floor for foreign workers from $53,000 a year to $90,000 a year, to ensure they are not used to undercut local wages and are filling genuine shortages.

With a massive backlog in visa processing, Australia is prioritising applications from offshore permanent migrants, causing further delays for those on temporary visas already in Australia.

The Settlement Council of Australia chief executive, Sandra Elhelw Wright, told Guardian Australia the two-step process of coming to Australia on a temporary visa then seeking a permanent one “can be a long process, taking anywhere from two years to four years and is filled with anxiety and uncertainty”.

“Once they become permanent, there is another waiting period of up to four years before they can access many of the services and have the same rights as other permanent residents and citizens.

“This is not the way to attract the world’s most talented migrants.”

At the summit, Universities Australia will call for “immediate residency options for students who wish to call Australia home once they graduate”.

Universities Australia also wants microcredentials to be formally accredited, and student loans to be extended to people studying shorter courses.

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