Over 140,000 skilled workers hoping to migrate to Australia are caught up in a departmental backlog going back over two years, the Daily Telegraph reports this week.
Immigration minister Chris Bowen was informed of the backlog in a secret briefing with Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) late last year, but the details of the briefing have only just been made public.
The backlog has been widely criticised by businessmen who believe that the number of skilled migrants in Australia needs to be swiftly increased in order to help the country ride out the economic crisis.
Australia’s rapid recovery from the worldwide economic problems of the past few years has led to what business leaders say is a shortage of workers in many sectors, including engineering, construction and health care, and a consequent risk of inflated wages.
Graham Kraehe, director of the Reserve Bank of Australia, told The Australian: ”I think skills shortages are a major problem and if we don’t increase the amount of skilled migration then we are going to have some real pressure on wages.
“Two things are critical: one is some measures to improve productivity, which has been very poor in the last three or four years and declining; and the second is to increase the skilled immigration quotas so we can address what is already a shortage and something that is putting pressure on project costs and more broadly will put pressure on wages costs in the community.”
A spokesman for the DIAC justified the backlog by saying that the government prioritised the order in which skilled migration applications were processed. “Priority goes to those applicants determined to bring the most benefit to Australia, not simply to those who applied first. For this reason, waiting times range from a few months, for those sponsored by employers, to a few years, for those who don’t have a sponsor or skills in need in Australia. The issue is that many more people were applying for skilled migration than there were places in the programme, so the pipeline of applicants awaiting a decision continued to grow.”
Over the past 40 years, Australia’s population has grown at an average of 1.4 per cent per annum, bringing its total population in 2011 to around 22 million.
In the briefing, Mr Bowen was told that in order to keep the country economically powerful and fight the problems of an ageing population, Australia would need to have a population of 36 million by 2050 – the same figure which was enthusiastically embraced by ex-prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2009, when he spoke of his hopes for a “Big Australia.”
Since Julia Gillard came to power in June 2010 however, the government’s emphasis on a “Big Australia” has switched to the idea of a “Sustainable Australia”, with migration intake decreased from around 300,000 to 180,000 a year, and a stronger emphasis placed on making sure migrants’ skills are needed.
In an interview on ABC programme PM, Mr Bowen said that he wanted to see the waiting figure reduced, but insisted that the “vast majority” of those people on the list were people “who the Department of Immigration have determined are people who are unlikely to have the skills necessary that the Australian economy needs at this point in time”.
The spokesman for the DIAC said that waiting times had already begun to fall as a consequence of recent reforms.
“The result is a programme that is driven by Australia’s labour market demand, rather than by the supply of people seeking skilled migration,” he added.
Source: Daily Telegraph
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