Politics Analysis

Albanese Government targets education and health skills in migration plans

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (image via YouTube)

The latest indications are that the Albanese Government is seeking skilled migrants in the education and health sectors above IT, finance, engineering or trades workers, says Dr Abul Rizvi.

*Also listen to the audio version of this article on Spotify HERE.

THE SKILLS GOVERNMENT targets in the points-tested Skilled Independent category give a clear signal of the skills it thinks will be in long-term demand. It also gives a signal to overseas students what courses it wants them to study if they want to maximise their chances of securing permanent residence.

The Skilled Independent category is a purely discretionary category that governments ramp up or down depending on demand in other skill stream categories to deliver whatever level of permanent migration program has been set (currently 190,000 plus 3,000 places in the Pacific Engagement Visa and not counting New Zealand citizens who now have a direct pathway to Australian citizenship).

Source: Department of Home Affairs.

Prior to 2017-18, both Labor and Coalition governments maintained the Skilled Independent category at well above 40,000 places per annum. Along with a cut to the overall migration program, former Home Affairs Minister and now Opposition Leader Peter Dutton cut the Skilled Independent category in 2017-18 and 2018-19 to less than 35,000.

The Skilled Independent category was further reduced during the pandemic with the closure of international borders. The focus of the migration program shifted towards state and territory-nominated visas as well as the new Global Talent Visa and the Business Investment and Innovation Program (BIIP) visas. The Coalition also started clearing the partner visa backlog it had illegally engineered.

The new Labor Government increased the overall migration program and along with it, the size of both the Skilled Independent category and state-nominated categories. The Global Talent visa and BIIP visas were significantly reduced given a range of concerns with these visas.

To deliver the larger Skilled Independent category, the Labor Government dramatically increased the size of invitation rounds for this category, reduced the frequency of these, lowered pass marks and initially targeted a very wide range of occupations.

The Coalition Government tended to issue small invitation rounds of usually less than 1,000, run these relatively frequently and use very high pass marks. 

The very large invitation rounds under the Labor Government were partly due to an increase in the portion of invitations that did not convert to visa grant (often due to initial claims against visa criteria not being met when checks were undertaken). Nevertheless, the large invitation rounds created a backlog of applications that meant invitation rounds did not need to be run as frequently.

In late December 2023, the Government issued its first invitation round in the Skilled Independent category for 2023-2024. The two outstanding characteristics of this invitation round were its relatively small size compared to invitation rounds in 2022-2023 and the very narrow range of skilled occupations that were targeted.

This invitation round also does not distinguish between offshore and onshore applicants. That must mean the Government expects relatively few onshore applications and is seeking to attract offshore applications at a time when it is also trying to drive down net migration.

The most striking feature of the latest invitation round is that it focuses almost entirely on health and education-related occupations. There are no occupations in occupational segments such as IT, finance, engineering or trades.

This will send a very clear signal to potential offshore applicants as well as to overseas students looking to use an Australian qualification to apply for skilled migration. It will leave a large portion of the 600,000 plus students and around 200,000 temporary graduates currently in Australia (as well as possibly around 100,000 former students on a COVID-related visa) in immigration limbo if they do not have health or education-related qualifications.

While those students and temporary graduates could still migrate via an employer-sponsored or state-nominated visa, their options have now been significantly narrowed.

*This article is also available on audio here:

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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