Skilled Migration Reform to Support Australia’s Growing Economy

The Federal Government will implement a suite of regional migration initiatives together with a measured increase in permanent migration – to 185 000 visas – in 2011-12 to deliver on its broader economic and regional development priorities. Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen MP, made the announcement today as part of the 2011-12 Budget, and said a new model for selecting skilled migrants was proposed to be introduced, as the significant next step in the government’s migration reforms.

The government’s recent reforms have contributed to a decline in net overseas migration levels by almost half from its peak of more than 315 000 for the year ending December 2008 to about 180 000 for the year ending September 2010, slowing the rate of population growth to a more sustainable level.

‘This has provided scope for a moderate increase in the migration program in 2011-12, while maintaining more sustainable annual levels of net overseas migration – in the region of 170 000–180 000 over the next few years,’ Mr Bowen said.

About two-thirds of the increased migration program will be for skilled migrants to help fill critical skill needs, particularly in regional areas. The skill stream intake will increase to 125 850 places, with 16 000 places allocated to the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme. Regional visas will also be afforded the highest processing priority to recognise the needs of employers and encourage regional migration.

‘For the first time, the Federal Government will specifically allocate permanent visas for regional areas,’ Mr Bowen said.

The government will also fast-track permanent residency for temporary business (subclass 457) visa holders who have spent two years in regional Australia and where their employer will continue to sponsor them for a further two years. This will make it easier for 457 visa holders to remain in the region where they have been living and working.

Mr Bowen said regional areas would also benefit from the introduction of Regional Migration Agreements, a new initiative that will bring together employers, local and state governments and unions to cooperate in addressing local labour needs.

‘This government recognises that different regions face different opportunities and pressures. The patchwork nature of the Australian labour market means it’s important to recognise unique local circumstances and tailor migration solutions accordingly,’ he said.

‘Regional Migration Agreements will offer a coordinated, localised response to labour needs, helping local areas to implement workforce strategies that support growth while ensuring local workers remain the first choice for employers and industry.’
Fostering training initiatives for Australians will be a strong focus of the new agreements. The existing network of regional, industry and union outreach officers will also be further resourced to ensure regional employers and industry groups are well informed about such initiatives, and can better gain access to skilled labour where it is needed.

‘This is a responsible and measured approach that recognises the role skilled migrants play in supporting regional enterprises, such as in the resources and healthcare sectors and in trades and professions currently facing significant shortages,’ Mr Bowen said.

The family intake for the 2011–12 migration program will increase to 58 600 places. The family program is socially important as it allows for the reunification of Australians with their close relatives, children and spouses.

Mr Bowen said in setting the size and composition of the migration program for 2011–12, and announcing recent reforms to skilled migration, the government has balanced the importance of maximising prosperity for all Australians, ensuring communities and regions are sustainable and maintaining job opportunities for local workers. It is critical that Australia’s skilled migration program is driven by Australia’s skills needs, rather than the desires of prospective migrants.

‘That’s why the government will introduce a new model for selecting skilled migrants to better target Australia’s future skill needs, expected to come into effect on 1 July 2012. The new model concludes a series of reforms to ensure the skilled migration program is more focussed and efficient, demand-driven and tailored to employers’ needs.