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Permanent migration cap lifted but for one year only

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The annual migration intake will increase from 160,000 to 195,000, but a backlog in visa processing is keeping thousands of potential employees at the door.

Addressing the Jobs and Skills summit on Friday, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil confirmed that Australia’s permanent migration cap will increase by 35,000 to 195,000 for this financial year.

Ms O’Neil said she hoped this increase would see “thousands more nurses settling in the country this year, thousands more engineers”.

“There is nothing in this room with universal support, but an area where almost everyone agrees is that we need to lift the permanent migration numbers for this year. I want to emphasise that one of Labor’s priorities is to move away from the focus on short-term migrants, toward permanency, citizenship and nation building,” the Minister explained.

“We’ve made that decision based on the discussions we have had and the urging of the people in this room. That is your voice being reflected in government decision making,” Ms O’Neil said.

This increase, the Minister confirmed, will see the number of regional migrant places rise by 9,000 to 34,000, while state and territory sponsored visa numbers will increase by 20,000 to 31,000.

Backlog of over 900,000 applications

However, recent reports have suggested that thousands of workers are being kept out of Australia by a major backlog in visa processing times due to the former government’s two-year migration stall and ongoing resource shortages.

In fact, also addressing the summit on Friday, Immigration Minister Andrew Giles confirmed that the backlog now numbers over 900,000 applications for permanent and temporary visas.

To help execute Labor’s migration push, the Minister pledged $36.1 million to clear the backlog by hiring an additional 500 staff over the next 9 months.

“Visa processing has been too far neglected,” Mr Giles said.

“This [investment] will help deliver the permanent migration program that my friend Minister O’Neil announced. We want, indeed, we need, people to choose Australia. And our processes and our policies must work together to support that choice.”

‘We must reinvigorate migration program’

The changes come amid a major skills shortage in the country.

Just recently, unions and employers agreed that Australia would need to lift its migration intake by 40,000 annually to help plug the skills shortage.

“We support a visa system which prioritises permanent migration and support expanding the permanent migration intake, but that decision must be in concert with systemic changes to undo the decade of low wage growth, exploitation and neglect under the former government,” ACTU president, Michele O’Neil said earlier this month.

Similarly, ACCI chief executive, Andrew McKellar, told the National Press Club earlier this month: “We must reinvigorate our migration program to meet the needs of a 21st century economy”.

“A great place to start is raising the target for the permanent skilled migration intake up to 200,000, at least for the next two years, to address the staffing crisis we’re seeing across the economy,” Mr McKellar said at the time.

“While a recent ramp up in resourcing to unblock the visa processing pipeline is also welcome, more can be done. Business simply cannot afford for backlogs of up to nine months when countries like Canada and the UK are racing ahead,” he added.

Globally, countries are ramping up their migration programs, with Canada said to be on path to exceed its goal of granting permanent residency to more than 430,000 people in 2022.

Next year, the country plans to add 451,000 permanent residents.

Australia loses 600k skilled people

Conversely in Australia, according to a thinktank’s predictions, net overseas migration will not fully recover from pandemic disruptions until 2024, the result of which is a loss of over 600,000 people, 83 per cent of whom are generally of working age and highly skilled.

Namely, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) released a report earlier this week calling on the Albanese government to move quickly with the right signals and settings.

“While interest in migrating to Australia is recovering, prolonged administrative delays and uncertainty risk cruelling the pitch to prospective migrants at a critical juncture in the recovery of global migration flows,” said CEDA chief economist Jarrod Ball.

“This comes on top of negative sentiment regarding Australia’s stringent border policies and lack of income support for temporary migrants during the pandemic, in contrast to Canada and the United Kingdom.”

Longer term, Mr Ball called for a complete overhaul of Australia’s migration system to focus on skills needs rather than occupations and clear pathways to permanency for temporary migrants.

“Australia must remain competitive against other destinations as our skills needs will continue into the future,” he said.

“A new immigration system must also be systematically reviewed by an independent institution such as the Productivity Commission with timely data on performance provided by the Department of Home Affairs.”

Maja Garaca Djurdjevic

Maja Garaca Djurdjevic

Maja's career in journalism spans well over a decade across finance, business and politics. Now an experienced editor and reporter across all elements of the financial services sector, prior to joining Momentum Media, Maja reported for several established news outlets in Southeast Europe, scrutinising key processes in post-conflict societies.