Australia Needs Migration Boost to Help Plug Skills Shortage

Australia needs to relax its immigration rules to encourage more people to move to the country and help plug a severe labor shortage, as well as improve workplace diversity, top executives told a business forum.

“A big role for migration is in helping to find people with experience we haven’t had time to acquire. I think that’s critical,” said Kate Pounder, chief executive officer of the Tech Council of Australia. She was speaking at the Australian Financial Review Business Summit on Tuesday.

Pounder pointed out that half of workers who arrive via skilled migration in the tech sector are women. “But if you look at our training system, 90% of people that come directly from information and communication technology degrees are men. So migration helps improve gender balance,” she added.

Prior to the pandemic, almost 400,000 international students and 250,000 working holiday makers were employed each year in Australia, many in pubs, hotels and restaurants. That supply evaporated when the country closed its borders and asked temporary residents to leave as the pandemic struck.

Australia's employment surged as total arrivals plunged

Australia finally reopened its international borders last month. But economists say it will be some time before migration returns to pre-pandemic levels, compounding a labor crunch as job vacancies soar.

Preeti Bajaj, chief executive officer of talent recruitment firm Adecco Group ANZ, said the government needs to relax visa rules to make it easier for international students and migrants to become permanent residents. Prior to the pandemic, Australian lawmakers tightened the pathway to permanent residency and citizenship, making it less attractive to move Down Under.

“What I could say is speed is of the essence. It’s a simple policy setting, we know where the demographic is coming from, we have a shortage, we can be intentional about it and just speed up the visa process,” Bajaj said.

“If you don’t have talent and you’re not mobilizing it from the education system and also from the globe you cannot scale your company.”