Australia seeks new migrants

Bring us your bricklayers, chefs and plumbers, hairdressers, pastry cooks and welders (first class).

The country plans to take in 100,000 new migrants this year
The country plans to take in 100,000 new migrants this year

It might not be as emotive as “huddled masses” but, coming from employers in Australia, it is just as heartfelt.

Facing a drought of skilled labour, the country is welcoming in more migrants in the hope of reducing inflationary pressures and, ultimately, the problems of a greying population.

“All the evidence suggests skilled migrants help plug the productivity gap and keep wage inflation contained,” said Michael Workman, senior economist at Commonwealth Bank.

“They also need somewhere to live, which supports the housing market,” he added.

Desperate demand

In the past year, the Australian government has twice expanded the list of skilled occupations for migrants it considers in high demand, and it now comprises more than 140 separate trades.

About 23% of the population was born overseas

About 23% of the population 
was born overseas

The country plans to take in almost 100,000 skilled migrants in the coming year and make it easier to work on holiday visas.

So desperate is the demand that if you are, say, a roof tiler and want to migrate to Australia, you can get 60 points towards the 120 you need to be allowed in as a skilled migrant on a checklist of factors including age and ability to speak English.

In contrast, R&D managers and physicists get 50 points, while futures dealers are worth just 40.

History of immigration

Immigration has long been a part of Australia’s modern make-up – about 23% of the country’s 20 million people were born overseas.

But the focus on skilled trades is relatively recent and reflects an exceptionally tight labour market. The unemployment rate is at 5.0% – the lowest since November 1976 – and a net 362,000 jobs have been created in the past 11 months.

Have “one baby for your husband and one for your wife and one for the country”

Treasurer Peter Costello

Yet SEEK, the largest online job site in the country, still boasts 102,000 vacancies.

Polls have indicated that the Australian public is evenly split on whether to allow in yet more skilled migrants, which is perhaps why the government this week launched an inquiry into the issue.

Announcing a nine-month study, Treasurer Peter Costello said there was value in understanding the links between skilled migration, population growth and productivity.

Ageing population

Observers suspect the government is looking to build a case for a significant increase in immigration since it may be the only way to ease the problem of Australia’s ageing population.

“It’s likely the government is preparing to bump up skilled migration quite strongly,” said CBA’s Workman. He noted that business lobbies had been calling for total immigration to be raised to 180,000 a year from the current 130,000.

Like many other developed countries, a combination of falling birth rates and longer life spans means the proportion of people aged 65 or over is projected to double to one-in-four by 2045.

Low birth rate

Treasury Secretary Ken Henry recently called it the principal macroeconomic issue of the very near future, one “of too few people wanting a job, not too many”.

One response has been to try to lift the birth rate, currently languishing about 1.75 children per woman, having fallen from 3.6 in 1961.

Last year, Treasurer Costello launched a A$3000 ($2285) baby bonus, exhorting Australians to have “one baby for your husband and one for your wife and one for the country”.

But if the birth rate does not improve, and there is no sign of it as yet, studies show that by the 2030s immigration may become the only source of population growth for Australia.

Source: Reuters

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