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Australia’s Immigration Reforms Offer Lessons for Other Countries Seeking to Develop Tailored Selection Systems for Economic Migrants
Press Release
Thursday, May 23, 2019

Australia’s Immigration Reforms Offer Lessons for Other Countries Seeking to Develop Tailored Selection Systems for Economic Migrants

WASHINGTON — Australia’s selection system for permanent immigration has attracted international attention for the generally strong labor market performance of the immigrants it admits. Since the mid-1990s, the system has moved away from a focus on family reunification to place greater emphasis on skills for permanent and temporary workers; it has also been refined to seek to better match the country’s labor market needs.

As governments adjust their systems to select economic migrants and the U.S. government eyes the Australian and similar models as it seeks “merit-based” immigration, a new report from the Migration Policy Institute’s Transatlantic Council on Migration offers an analysis of policies in Australia—one of several countries in the vanguard of points-based systems, alongside Canada, New Zealand and others.

The report, The Evolution of the Australian System for Selecting Economic Immigrants, outlines how approaches to permanent skilled selection in Australia have shifted over time, as well as recent changes to temporary economic migration policy across skill levels. By adjusting the points system to give more weight to education and English skills and narrowing the list of occupations under which immigrants can apply for entry, policymakers have sought to better address labor market needs.

In the report, University of Sydney researchers Anna Boucher and Amy Davidson also draw attention to challenges inherent in the design of skills tests, including Australia’s SkillSelect, a relatively new immigrant selection method. As with Canada’s Express Entry system, profiled in a recent Transatlantic Council report, the SkillSelect digital platform allows officials to adjust the points required for entry on an ongoing basis, influenced by the supply of applicants and labor-market demands.

The overall nature of Australia’s economic immigration program has shifted radically since the turn of the 21st century, leading to one that is predominantly employer driven and increasingly temporary in nature as access to permanent immigration has narrowed. Australia has thus moved far and fast from its original position as a “settler state” toward a market-based immigration model, where immigrants play a key role in certain sectors, for example comprising one-third of hospital workers and 43 percent of café and restaurant staff.

The report draws from Australia’s experience to offer several lessons for other countries that seek to develop a tailored and targeted immigration selection system, including:

  • The need for regular adjustment and management of immigrant selection criteria to ensure they fill actual labor market skills gaps. Concerns about this sort of mismatch contributed to reforms in Australia after permanent skilled immigration became dominated by international students.
  • Periodic review and adjustment of selection procedures in order to avoid potential backlogs. By allowing some qualification checks to occur earlier in the application process, SkillSelect has helped reduce backlogs.
  • The need for attention to the recruitment of low- and semi-skilled workers, not just the highly skilled. Without a formal entry pathway for low- and semi-skilled workers, recruitment of immigrants in these sectors in Australia has become dominated by workers on visas originally intended for other purposes.

The report is the fourth in a Transatlantic Council series focused on ways in which countries can build migration systems for a new age of economic competitiveness. Read the reports in the series here: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/transatlantic-council-migration/building-migration-systems-competitiveness.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels. MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration is a unique deliberative body that examines vital policy issues and informs migration policymaking processes across the Atlantic community.