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Morrison misleads on migration

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In a bid to win votes, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is spinning mistruths about Australia's immigration program (Image by Dan Jensen)

Scott Morrison has misinformed the public on Australia's levels of net migration and our struggling visa system, writes Dr Abul Rizvi.

ON THE 160,000 migration program for 2021-22 set out in the Budget Papers, the Australian Financial Review reports that Prime Minister Scott Morrison said:

“We’re not even going to get close to that cap in the short term because we are seeking to rebuild the program, re-open the lines of people being able to come to Australia.”

This statement is untrue on both counts but it also reveals where Morrison wants to take immigration in the future.

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) will readily deliver the 160,000 migration program in 2021-22 and is in fact managing places carefully to not go over 160,000.

By this time of the program year, the Department will have already delivered 80 to 90 per cent of the program — that is, the visas have already been issued.

State/territory governments are carefully managing the allocation of places reserved for them to ensure they don’t exceed their allocation.

Many state/territory governments are advising potential applicants who have lodged a registration of interest with them of the lack of remaining allocation this year.

Most potential applicants who have contacted state/territory governments about being nominated for a skilled visa are being told they will have to wait until there is more allocation next program year.

Western Australia in fact ran out of its allocation earlier this year. Its request for more allocation was accepted in March and it is getting through this very quickly.

In April, the Tasmanian Government advised that its skilled migration program ‘now has only very limited nomination places remaining and enough on-hand applications to expend our full quota by the end of June 2022’.

The NSW Government says the number of ‘EOIs submitted for NSW greatly exceeds the places available. As such, the vast majority of EOIs will not be invited to apply’.

By end April, the Victorian Government had ceased accepting new registrations of interest as it had more than enough on hand. It won’t start accepting new registrations of interest until July 2022.

In mid-March 2022, the SA Government said it was close to exhausting its allocation for 2021-22 and had requested more places from DHA.

DHA has tens of thousands of Expressions of Interest on its SkillSelect system for whom it could issue an invitation to apply under the Skilled Independent category.

But because of a lack of places in the program, it has not issued any invitations since January this year when it issued only 400 invitations.

There is a backlog of around 30,000 applications in the Business Innovation and Investment Program which DHA could process but cannot because of a lack of places in the 160,000 migration program.

The visa application backlogs for many categories are more than enough to deliver a much larger program.

Rather than “not coming close” to delivering the 2021-22 program as the Prime Minister says, it would be more accurate to say the Government is struggling to manage the visa system, which is gridlocked and in chaos.

But then why has the Prime Minister said his Government won’t come close to delivering the migration program set out in his Budget Papers and needs to “re-open the lines of people being able to come to Australia”?

That’s because he is under intense pressure from almost every business lobby group in the country to increase the program urgently and needed an excuse for not doing so ahead of the Election.

Because of major labour shortages that are putting many businesses under severe pressure, the Business Council of Australia has demanded the migration program be increased initially to 220,000 per annum and then settled at 190,000 per annum over the long term.

Treasury itself has assumed the migration program will be increased to 190,000 per annum.

That is essential to delivering the Government’s long-term forecast of net migration of 235,000 per annum – net migration measures the actual level of long-term and permanent people movements – which in turn is critical to the Prime Minister’s promise of creating 1.3 million jobs over the next five years.

Job creation and stronger economic growth is how the Prime Minister says Australia will get its government debt under control.

So why doesn’t the Prime Minister just say the Government will easily deliver the 160,000 program in 2021-22 and will increase the program in future as business lobby groups are demanding and Treasury has assumed?

No prime minister since Robert Menzies and Harold Holt has gone to an Election promising higher levels of immigration.

Morrison knows he would lose the Election if he revealed his intention to significantly increase immigration levels — remember the “Big Australia” debate triggered by Kevin Rudd.

Morrison is in fact planning much higher levels of net migration than Rudd ever dreamed of.

Even parts of the Murdoch press would attack him on that. Not because it is necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that some parts of the Murdoch press hate immigration and many of its readers have the same view.

But for Morrison to egregiously mislead the Australian public on his plans for higher immigration, but without any plans to address the chaos in the visa system, is just appalling.

The immigration debate in Australia is so often truly facile.

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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