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Australians…where are you?

Push to make it easier for migrants to come to Australia and take hard-to-fill jobs in regional areas

SOUTH Australia should be the test site for a radical plan to boost the population in country towns and small cities with foreigners who want the jobs that locals refuse, a leading think-tank has proposed.

The new SA Centre for Economic Studies report recommends enticing overseas migrants to the state by offering an easier path to citizenship and opening up job visas for more occupations.

The plan is a response to businesses in the bush facing “severe” problems filling permanent jobs because many unemployed locals were not “work ready” and Australian’s “general unwillingness” to move to regional areas.

Food manufacturers in particular have listed drug use such as ice as a barrier to them taking on unemployed South Australians.

The SACES report — the final in a series on migration — made 14 recommendations to create a regionally focused migration program that could help drive growth in regional towns and reduce pressure on Australia’s big cities.

It found the Federal Government’s tough new visa restrictions “appear” to be a reaction to infrastructure problems in Sydney and Melbourne but may only cut population growth in places such as SA where migration was needed to balance an ageing population and people moving interstate.

It also states that concerns about migrants making unemployment rates worse were not supported by the evidence which actually shows migration has no impact on the employment rates of the non-migrant population and a very small but positive impact on average wages.

“In many cases the announced (visa) changes exacerbate the existing situation of South Australian employers (particularly in regional areas) not always being able to access employees with the skills they require,” the report found.

Migration Solutions chief executive Mark Glazbrook, who organised funding for the research, said it was obvious the current structure of the migration program did not support SA businesses.

“Unmet demand for workers, regional depopulation and our ageing population would benefit greatly from the introduction of a new migration program which is based on genuine demand,” he said.

“For too long there has been a widespread misunderstanding that migration takes jobs, However this research shows that under the right settings, rules and regulations that migration can stimulate economic growth and prosperity.”

What are SA businesses saying?

Despite SA’s above average unemployment rate, local business told SACES researchers there remains a substantial number of unfilled vacancies, particularly in regional areas.

“Employers expressed the view that a significant proportion of jobseekers they are seeing have significant barriers to their work readiness that makes them unsuitable for employment,” the report states.

“For some businesses the difficulty in recruiting labour was severe enough that they had resorted to filling permanent positions with travellers on working holiday visas — requiring them to recruit, induct and train new employees every six months.”

Business reported the Commonwealth Government’s network of jobactive providers were not sufficiently addressing helping unemployed people to meet employers standards and that substance use — particularly ice — was raised as a concern. The authors suggested that a region-specific migration plan would recognise the substantially smaller labour market of regional areas and difficulties often experience in attracting Australians from major urban centres.

These issues mean that jobs which may be able to be filled from the local workforce in Sydney and Melbourne could not necessarily be filled by Australian workers in a regional area.

Why is population growth important?

More South Australians have moved interstate than people from other states have moved to SA since at least 1981, report authors Steve Whetton and Dr Andreas Cebulla found.

“This means that if SA is to maintain and grow its labour force it needs strong migration rates, particularly in the skilled categories, and ideally from individuals in the relatively younger age groups who are being lost interstate,” the report stated.

This was also the case in many regional areas across Australia which were experiencing either absolute population loss or population growth rates that well below the Australian average.

Like SA, these regional areas tend to have greater proportions of older residents, and relatively fewer of prime working age.

“This means that migrant settlement is more beneficial to the demographic structure of regional centres than to the major cities,” the report stated.

“A significant driver of current Australian migration policy appears to be the fact that the populations of Sydney and Melbourne have been increasing at a faster rate than supporting infrastructure, both private (housing) and public (transport infrastructure, schools, hospitals etc).

“This is a legitimate concern for these jurisdictions, and a policy response in the migration system may well be warranted, but there is no reason to expect that changes to national migration settings are likely to be the optimal response.”

The authors believed to address this migration limits should be set regionally rather than nationally to help reduce the pressure on major east coast cities while boosting the economy in other areas.

South Australia’s regional population growth is seven per cent in the decade from 2006 .

Key recommendations

■ CREATE a new Temporary Regional Visa which has a broader occupation list including jobs with lower skill levels, allows more pathways to permanent residence and exempt regional businesses from paying the new training levy.

■ REDUCE the minimum salary for temporary worker from the nationwide $53,900 to a flexible rate based on regional job market conditions.

■ IMPROVE post-study work rights for vocational education and training graduates working in regional areas whose occupation faces unmet demand in their region. Since 2013, post-study work rights have been restricted to those completing degrees.

■ SET upper limits for migration regionally rather than nationally, based on consultations with state and territory governments.

■ REMOVE caveats from skill lists for employers in regional areas such are restricting visa applications for certain occupations to larger businesses with a minimum turnover size.

■ INCLUDE region specific occupations in the skill lists.

■ REVIEW the impacts and implementation of the recent changes to student visas with particular focus on whether the risk rating of country of origin reflects actual risk of students overstaying their visa.

■ TARGET the Business Innovation and Investment visas at people planning to establish or take over businesses in Australia by removing the requirement the funding for such investment to come from a larger number of sources.

■ CREATE start-up visa for those in the country temporarily on other grounds such as student visas, 457 visas, or working holiday because these people are a potential source of entrepreneurial ideas.

■ CUT down on extreme delays in processing temporary skill visas by shifting places into the demand driven visa classes from other visa categories.

Courtesy of The Advertiser, Sheradyn Holderhead, Political Reporter

Administrator’s note

Seems to be revisiting the regional 457 visa program which was disbanded many years ago without any reason, and leaving employers in the country, unable to compete with city employers or satisfy unrealistic salary requirement. I wonder whose brilliant idea that was?This was even before the new caveat regime was introduced, which will make it even harder for regional employers to fill positions which they can’t already fill for the reasons noted in the above article.

Makes a bit of a joke of the Prime Minister’s recent ‘jobs for Australian first’sound-bite!