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Migration will play an essential role in Australia’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as the Federal Government weighs up changes to fill skills shortages, says Federal Immigration Minister, the Hon. Alex Hawke.
“The structural changes that… have happened internationally and to our economy mean that we have a year in immigration unlike any other,” Mr Hawke, who is also Minister for Citizenship, Migration Services and Multicultural Affairs, told a recent CEDA livestream.
“We have a gap year to do some reform and do some work that we might not have otherwise had, and we’re certainly taking up the opportunity to do that work in an unusual environment where we can improve our system to take advantage of what might happen next in a global sense.”
The minister highlighted the Government’s recent decision to provide unlimited English language tuition through the $1 billion Adult Migrant English Program, which was previously capped at 510 hours.
Mr Hawke said the changes would help people with their English language skills and enhance their employability.
The move comes after Australia’s population declined in the June quarter last year, shrinking for the first time since World War I, according to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
The ABS noted that net overseas migration was the main driver of quarterly population decline, falling by 34,800 people during the three months to the end of September 2020.
Mr Hawke said the overwhelming message from business and state and territory governments was that skills shortages throughout Australia needed to be filled quickly.
“The Government sees the migration program as integral to how Australia will recover from COVID, as well in accessing the skills that we need for the shortages that we will have in our economy,” he said.
“Plenty of sectors are lobbying for more flexibility measures and the Government is very sympathetic to maximise flexibility within the migration program in Australia.
Mr Hawke said the Federal Government was working on ways to increase its ability to respond faster to changes in the skills environment through its joint standing committee.
Speaking during the livestream, CEDA Chief Executive, Melinda Cilento said the migration system in Australia had worked well to-date, but needed to be ready for the next stage of the recovery.
“As we recover, [the migration system is] absolutely going to have to be on its game if we’re going to achieve the economic and social success that we want as a nation,” Ms Cilento said.
Ms Cilento pointed to CEDA’s latest report on skilled migration, which showed almost one in four permanent skilled migrants in Australia were working in a job beneath their skill level.
“That’s a waste to them and it’s a waste to our economy,” she said.
“In terms of the wages lost to those individuals, the price that we put on that was at least $1.25 billion [between 2013 and 2018], so it’s a really significant issue.”