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Experts laud Albanese government’s migration reforms as much-needed remedy

The Albanese government's changes to migration have been described by experts as positive.

The Albanese government's changes to migration have been described by experts as positive. Photo: TND

Migration experts have hailed the Albanese government’s migration reforms as a positive step towards reducing the exploitation of foreign workers, addressing labour shortages and stopping the misuse of certain visas.

Chris F Wright, associate professor of work and organisation studies at the University of Sydney, said migration policy is often driven by politics and governments “trying to get one over their opposition”.

“This is the first time in a very long time that we’ve got evidence-based policy,” he said.

“The government has said this is a broken model, it’s led to exploitation and hasn’t addressed what the labour market needs.”

The reform includes 25 commitments from the government after a review found Australia’s migration system was broken and required major changes.

Wright said the quality of policy development in migration is “often pretty dire”.

“This is a remarkably good package in terms of the articulation of the problem,” Wright said.

“The development of policies, on any reasonable expectations, will help address those problems.”

The changes include reducing the age of graduate visa from 50 to 35 and stopping people from returning to a student visa afterwards, removing occupation lists for jobs paying above $130,000, and introducing a public register of employer sponsors.

Slow to act

Dr Abul Rizvi, a former deputy secretary of the Department of Immigration, said the changes are a move in the right direction, but questioned why it took so long to implement.

“I would describe the bulk of the changes as sensible, but late and too little,” he said.

“Immigration is a difficult area, but taking too long to act can sometimes be as bad as acting too quickly.”

The Albanese government has projected that net migration is projected to fall from 510,000 in 2022-23 to 250,000 in 2024-25 because of English language requirements for students, visa applications from high-risk providers being scrutinised, and a $19 million funding boost for the Home Affairs Department to reduce misuse of the student visa program.

too many international students

The bulk of the reduction in net migration will be international students. Photo: Getty

The government is aiming to halve net migration and Rizvi said students make up about 60 per cent of all migration to Australia.

“Whenever governments have talked about increasing or reducing the migration intake, they’ve talked about the permanent migration program,” he said.

“In this instance, the government is saying the permanent migration program will stay where it is, but it’s net migration it wants to bring down and I think that’s a significant and positive development.”

More than 746,000 international students studied in Australia between January and September 2023.

Mobility of skilled workers

Skilled migrant workers will now have six months to find a new sponsor if they leave their employer, which Wright said is a move “towards a world-first model.”

“This is better for the labour market because it promotes mobility, which is good in terms of helping address skill shortages, add innovation and productivity,” he said.

“Employers have come to expect this sort of control in some industries like hospitality and that’s no longer going to be allowed under this model.”

Rizvi said while giving employees the time to find another sponsor is a “good thing to do”, six months may be too long.

“There are positives and benefits in giving people more time to find another employer,” he said.

“My fear is the government may have gone too far and given them too much time.”

There are about 1.6 million temporary visa holders in Australia, but many migrants – such as asylum seekers – aren’t included in that number.

Rizvi said he hoped the government would commit to the more concrete and objective criteria for international students and focus on resolving “the asylum seeker backlog”.

“It’s now well over 100,000 asylum seekers in the country,” he said.

“If it doesn’t get the asylum-seeker numbers under control, that will be another opportunity for the opposition to attack.”

In July 2023 there were more than 130,000 working holiday visa-holders in Australia, and Wright said it didn’t receive attention in the government’s report.

“Backpackers are really important contributors in the workforce in regional areas and horticulture, but there are big problems with that visa in terms of people being mistreated,” he said.

“That’s probably the main criticism I’d make.”

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