Is skilled worker migration to Australia coming under pressure?

Despite the worldwide economic downturn the Australian economy continues to go from strength to strength. For advice about a new life overseas in Australia, employment in Australia or further information about the country, check out the AustraliaForum.com

 The Australian media, and indeed the expat world, has been focusing upon the temporary skilled workers visa, otherwise known as the 457 visa, as it has become something of a political hot potato of late. There is speculation that the Australian government is looking to reduce the number of visas granted with pressure from the Australian unions, historic Labor Party supporters, adding an interesting ingredient to the mix.

Even though the number of 457 visas granted increased by 20% last year there is speculation that skilled workers are still required across Australia for a variety of reasons.

The Australian economy

Australia was one of the few countries around the world which managed to avoid recession in the aftermath of the 2008 US mortgage crisis. This was in the main due to an ever-growing need for natural resources with particularly close relationships with China and India helping the Australian government to steer clear of the downturn. However, data released this week suggests that the Australian economy is beginning to slow down with growth of 2.5% to the year ended March 2013 compared with estimates of 2.7%.

In traditional markets this would suggest a tightening of the employment arena although currently unemployment in Australia is at a near-record low of 5.5%. While it is not certain that the Australian economy will continue to slow what is certain is the fact that unemployment will lag any further slowdown in economic growth, as it would on the upside. So while unemployment remains relatively low at 5.5% it is likely to move higher in the short to medium term although to what degree remains to be seen.

The employment market

One interesting factor which emerged after the release of recent employment statistics is that around 35% of the Australian workforce are part-time, contract workers or on casual labour agreements. It also seems that 7% of the part-time workforce has confirmed they have additional capacity available, in terms of working hours, as and when required which could hold back any future fall in the rate of unemployment.

When you take into account the fact that the economy is slowing, unemployment will come under pressure in the short term at least, where does this leave overseas skilled workers who have for some time now targeted Australia?

 

An imbalance in skills and experience

For some time now the Australian authorities have been well aware of a mismatch between skills and experience available in Australia, those available from overseas workers and those required by the Australian business arena. The why’s and the wherefores of the 457 visa, as one example, have been played out in the press for some time now although many believe it is currently more of a political angle as opposed to an employment situation.

The reality is, as confirmed by various large conglomerates in Australia, that without the assistance of a variety of overseas skilled workers a number of enormous business projects in Australia would not have been completed. The mining industry is one particular industry where there are skills and experience shortages although this is just one of many which have been highlighted by the Australian government. The fact therefore remains that despite resistance among some politicians, unions and various elements of the Australian domestic workforce, there’s still a need for skilled overseas workers at this moment in time. Indeed, until we see a significant shift in the amount of funding spent on training programmes, to make up for gaps in the employment market, this situation is likely to drag on for many years to come.

 Conclusion

Despite the fact that unemployment in Australia will likely rise in the short to medium term, if the economy continues to slow, there will remain a need for various skilled and experienced overseas workers. The balance of skills and experience across the domestic Australian employment market does not reflect the requirements of the business arena hence the ongoing popularity of immigration programmes such as the 457 visa.

We may see certain employment opportunities and specific skills removed from the government’s “in demand” list but the fact remains there will be numerous opportunities in a variety of different areas. We need to see a change in the way in which employees are trained across Australia, which specific areas of business are focused upon and a reduction in political influence of the employment market. Until the Australian domestic employment market is “self serving” the number of 457 visas, as one example, granted each and every year is likely to rise for the foreseeable future.

 

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