Australia’s migrant workers often in jobs below their skill levels

Several flaws in the system mean Australia is not getting the full benefit of immigrant labour, even in areas like technology facing labour shortages.

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A report from the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) has found that 23% of permanent skilled migrants in Australia are working in a job beneath their skill level.

When it comes to the IT/ICT skills analysed, migrants were most likely to find work in their nominated occupation if they were software and applications programmers (74%) or IT/ICT business and systems analysts.

But there are also still a large number of professionals in technology areas working in jobs beneath their skill level. As one example, the report noted that software application programmers encompass a range of skills, some of which are more niche than others. “A person applying under this specialty who has a lower point score [in a test required as part of the visa application] than an individual with generic programming skills will not be able to stand out from the crowd, even if they have skills that are in demand—they will be leapfrogged by the person with higher points,” the report said.

The report “A good match: Optimising Australia’s permanent skilled migration” was based on data from different surveys carried out by the Department of Home Affairs over a decade and data from jobs site Seek. Those who had difficulty finding work in any occupation cited reasons such as a lack of local work experience and local networks, followed by language difficulties.

“We found the permanent skilled migration scheme that had the broadest lists of eligible occupations and lacked employer involvement had the highest rates of skills mismatch. For example, more than 32% of state-sponsored migrants were working at a lower skills level than their nominated field. In contrast, employer-sponsored migrants experienced the best outcomes—only 13% were working at a lower skills level than their nominated field,” the report said.

In the report, CEDA recommends that the Australian Bureau of Statistics should comprehensively update the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) codes to ensure that migrants with vital and cutting-edge skills can migrate to Australia and contribute to the maturing of the labour market. These codes have not been updated since 2013 and do not include roles such as data analyst or data scientist, which various other reports have found to be in to be in demand.

Another issue is that there is no limit as to the number of visas approved per occupation in the state- and territory-nominated scheme, while there are monthly limits on visas in the skilled-independent and the regional-provisional schemes.

The report recommends the establishment of a new government-regulated online skills-matching jobs platform to allow permanent skilled migrants to register their skills and let accredited employers hire migrants from the platform.

The federal government should be more transparent about the data and methods used to assess whether occupations are deemed to be in-demand and included on skilled-occupation lists, the report also recommends. Also, it recommends reducing the Newly Arrived Resident’s Waiting Period for unemployment benefits from four years to six months, to give permanent skilled migrants a better chance to find the right job. “Research suggests that increases to this waiting period since the late 1990s have exacerbated the skills mismatch, while delivering only modest annual savings to the federal budget.”

CEDA chief executive Melinda Cilento said that a system that does not enable access to critical skills in a timely fashion means Australia will be unable to keep up with global competition. “We are already hearing consistent concerns from our members about skills shortages while international borders remain closed, and the inability to access the skills needed to drive growth and investment, including digital and data opportunities,” she said.

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