Australian business calls for visa reform to meet skill shortages

by Ray Clancy on February 15, 2011

in Australia Immigration

Australian visa processing urged to quicken pace

Australia’s 457 visa programme needs to be overhauled and a strategy worked out to meet the challenges associated with the country’s serious skill shortages, according to a leading business organisation.

The Business Council of Australia has urged the Gillard government to expand temporary skilled migration and called for wage rises to be tied to productivity gains in deals negotiated under Fair Work laws.

As concerns about the impact of worsening skills shortages on the resources sector grow, the BCA has urged the government to introduce a new form of fast tracked labour agreement, an enterprise migration agreement, for big projects.

In its pre-budget submission, it warns that many companies are worried about the cost and processing times associated with the current 457 visa programme.

It recommends a three pronged strategy to meet Australia’s pressing skills needs, including ongoing education and training of Australian workers; a commitment to maintain the current level of permanent skilled migration; and greater use of temporary migration for certain large investment projects.

‘The government should be on the front foot in managing risks around skills shortages, fluctuating commodity prices and natural disasters. The time is right also for government to offer greater transparency around its spending decisions to reassure the broader community, including business, that taxpayers are getting value for money,’ said Business Council of Australia president Graham Bradley.

The report points out that there is an uneven pattern of growth in the Australian economy that is characterised by a strong labour market and signs of emerging skills shortages and capacity constraints on the one hand, and weakness in retail spending and softness in parts of the manufacturing and services sectors on the other.

‘The overall picture for the economy is one of sound growth prospects. However, tight labour markets will present significant challenges, and the capacity of the Fair Work Act to support productivity related wage outcomes will be tested through 2011 and into 2012 as existing Australian Workplace Agreements expire,’ the report says.

‘A commitment to a well-targeted skilled migration programme will also be essential for successful economic and fiscal management. The ongoing demand for labour and skills cannot be underestimated and tight labour markets and emerging skills shortages will present major challenges for policymakers,’ it adds.

The BCA said there is a need for policy interventions at several levels including flexible and high quality training opportunities for those leaving school and those seeking retraining to enter areas of employment growth and a clear commitment to policies that will support current levels of permanent skilled migration.

There is also a need to promote policies that can help address immediate labour shortages by improving arrangements around the present 457 visa programme and considering the introduction of new ‘Enterprise Migration Programs’ for certain large investment projects as outlined in the National Resources Sector Employment Taskforce Report, it also says.

While the government has introduced new temporary arrangements to slash 457 visa-processing times so that skilled migrants could be imported for the Queensland floods reconstruction programme, the BCA wants this extended to cover the wider economy.

‘The ongoing demand for labour and skills cannot be underestimated and tight labour markets and emerging skills shortages will present major challenges for policymakers. It is important for the budget to include a clear commitment to policies that will support appropriate levels of skilled migration,’ the report continues.

The BCA submission says the budget should detail a target of net overseas migration of 180,000.

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