Workforce | Skills // Population

Immigration system not fit for purpose: reform required to remain competitive

In a new paper ahead of the Federal government’s Jobs and Skills Summit, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) says Australia’s migration system has been playing catch-up since borders re-opened and is no longer fit for purpose.

Australia’s post-pandemic immigration system requires an immediate reset to ensure the nation can address critical skills gaps and re-enter the global talent race to realise future growth and investment opportunities.

In a new paper ahead of the Federal government’s Jobs and Skills Summit, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) says Australia’s migration system has been playing catch-up since borders re-opened and is no longer fit for purpose.

Much of the pre-Summit focus on migration has been on lifting permanent migration caps, but Australia will need a very different and much more efficient skilled migration system to address immediate skills shortages now and areas critical to future industries.

“Businesses and prospective migrants are encountering a system that is cumbersome, complex and uncertain,” says CEDA Chief Economist Jarrod Ball.

“Businesses are increasingly resorting to labour agreements with the federal government, as standard temporary or permanent visa programs fail to meet their needs.

“There are over 1,000 such agreements currently in place, increasing almost two-fold in the last 18 months.”

Historically, migrants have supplied a third of the increased skills requirements of the Australian economy, but net overseas migration will not fully recover from pandemic disruptions until 2024. The result is a loss of over 600,000 people since the mid-2020, 83 per cent of whom are generally of working age and highly skilled. 

“Furthermore, the administrative visa backlog is significant - blowing out waiting times and requiring substantial administrative effort to resolve,” says Mr Ball.

“The good news is the window of opportunity remains open for Australia – provided we move quickly with the right signals and settings – as global interest in migration to Australia has recovered to levels not seen since before the pandemic.

“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. 

“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.”

CEDA is calling for immediate reforms to the migration system including:

  • A visa backlog action plan in the October Budget to provide greater certainty and confidence to prospective migrants;
  • A streamlined path for intra-company transfers of employees to Australia;
  • A specific Essential Skills Visa to address the caring workforce deficit;
  • Consolidating the multiple skilled occupation lists to one expansive list with a consistent pathway to permanent residency; and
  • Ensuring Jobs and Skills Australia have responsibility to advise on areas of training need and report on how training funds are allocated.

Australia’s migration system must be overhauled over the longer term 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 says.

“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."

CEDA Chief Economist Jarrod Ball is available for further comment and interviews. 

For more information, please contact: 

Elizabeth Byrne, Media Manager and Content Specialist
Mobile: 0410 627 250 | Email: 

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About CEDA

CEDA – the Committee for Economic Development of Australia – is an independent, not-for-profit membership organisation.

We identify policy issues that matter for Australia’s future. We work to drive policies that deliver better economic, social and environmental outcomes for Australia. We deliver on our purpose by: Leveraging insights from our members to identify and understand the most important issues Australia faces. Facilitating collaboration and idea sharing to invoke imaginative, innovative and progressive policy solutions. Providing a platform to stimulate thinking, raise new ideas and debate critical and challenging issues. Influencing decision makers in government, business and the community by delivering objective information and expert analysis and advocating in support of our positions. CEDA's membership spans every state and territory and includes Australia's leading businesses, community organisations, government departments and academic institutions. The organisation was founded in 1960 by leading economist Sir Douglas Copland, and his legacy of applying economic analysis to practical problems to aid the development of Australia continues as we celebrate 60 years of influence, reform and impact across the nation.;