The Joint Standing Committee posted its final report based on the inquiry it conducted on Australia’s skilled migration program to address skill shortages in the country. In its report, the Committee called for a whole of government approach to tackle the skilled labour shortages in Australia and recommended replacement of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations(ANZCO) list. The Committee felt that the ANZCO list was severely outdated and emphasized `shifting to a new approach to underpin the skilled migration lists".
The ANZCO list was formulated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to give information on the skill level of jobs, qualifications, and experiences required to work in specific occupations in Australia. It is used by the federal government as a base as to whether an individual is eligible to qualify for a skilled visa in Australia. The Committee recommended that the National Skills Commission should develop a new occupation and/or skills identification system for the skilled migration program in consultation with the industry. The new system should be more flexible in adapting to emerging market needs. Integration with other functions of government currently utilising the ANZCO should also be figured out.
The committee was constituted after Alex Hawke, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services, and Multicultural Affairs had requested an inquiry into this problem. The report has been released six months after the request. The Committee has been giving timely updates on the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic on Australia’s skilled migration program. The dearth of skilled migrants and near-record low unemployment has been listed as one of the important reasons for skills shortages by the Joint Standing Committee.
Julian Leeser, Committee chair apprised that over 5,00,000 temporary migrants have left Australia since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. He also added that further 77,000 people are expected to migrate from Australia in the 2021-22 financial year.
The Committee also pointed out that a less constrained and comprehensive examination of the skilled migration program can be carried out because of the standstill created by the pandemic. This measure can be helpful in determining whether the skilled migration policy and settings are serving the Australian interests and its selectivity process. Maintaining Australia’s position as an attractive place for skilled migrants while being internationally competitive is also a prerogative.
The Committee report also outlined that it was not convinced that a whole of government approach was being taken to sort out the skill shortage problem. The Committee recommended that a comprehensive approach needs to be put in place to identify and plan to cater to the needs and location of the current and future workforce. It also outlined that the administration needs to gauge a proper understanding of where the current skill gaps exist. It also needs to look at which skills are underdeveloped and likely to become available in the future on a domestic level. Industries that will face current, emerging and future workforce shortages should also be taken into account in understanding the occupations requiring skilled migrants.
The Committee suggested that two key responses are required for such a holistic assessment. The first one will be a coordinated approach across the Commonwealth and across jurisdictions. The other one is a more coordinated approach to data gathering and analysis.
Leeser elaborated, "Aggregating the collected data, to be analysed by a cross-agency and cross-jurisdictional body to produce a coordinated national workforce plan will not only assist in ensuring that any labour shortages are both understood and addressed as effectively as possible, it will also provide a more solid foundation for planning migration numbers and the specific types of visas and occupations that are targeted by the migration intake. A more coordinated approach will also further bolster public confidence in the skilled migration program."
The Committee also suggested the government provide clearer pathways to enable international students and temporary migrants to stay and help fill Australia's skill shortages. However, mandatory conditions such as requiring applicants to have competent English language ability and be under the age of 45 should stay the same.
The Committee recommended that the Medium and Long Terms Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL) and Short Term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) should be consolidated into one list -- The Skilled Occupation List (SOL) and should be regularly reviewed.
Some other recommendations were to exempt businesses from Labour Market Testing when a 457 or 482 visa holder has been given a full-time job for 12 months or more, and prior to their lodgement of a subsequent visa application or a permanent residence application.
The Committee asked the Department of Home Affairs to improve its customer service, which incorporates establishing industry liaison officers who can provide feedback to the department on emerging industry conditions.