Australia’s migration system is broken in key parts, often seen as unfair, and fails to properly serve either migrants or business, according to a scathing assessment by the Albanese government’s migration review.
The inquiry, to be released on Thursday, strongly warns against the over-reliance on temporary migrants, risking Australia becoming a country of “permanently temporary” residents.
It concludes that making the migration system fit for purpose will require “major reform” rather than “tinkering and incrementalism”.
The inquiry into “A Migration System for Australia’s Future” has been conducted by Martin Parkinson, former head of the prime minister’s department; Joanna Howe, associate professor in law at the University of Adelaide; and John Azarias, a former senior partner at Deloitte.
The government has released one chapter ahead of the full report. The panel finds:
The migration system is neither fast nor efficient and is often perceived as unfair. Users, current and potential migrants and businesses find the system unnecessarily complex and difficult to navigate at all levels.
It says the skilled migration system “is not effectively targeted to either current or future needs”, and that the occupation lists underpinning it fail to reflect present or anticipated labour requirements. The inquiry also criticises the points test used to select skilled migrants who do not have a job offer.
The inquiry warns that given the international competition for highly skilled migrants, “Australia risks falling behind without more innovative and attractive visa products and service delivery”.
Despite a shortage of workers in the care sector, “Australia lacks an explicit migration policy focusing on lower paid workers and has taken a piecemeal approach that is not meeting our needs or protecting vulnerable migrant workers”.
Temporary migrant workers are exploited, a risk heightened by aspects of the system.
On the student front, the review says Australia isn’t “focused enough on capturing the best and brightest” of the international crop.
Moreover, “Australia is letting too many former students become ‘permanently temporary’ by not identifying [early enough] those with the greatest potential for success” as permanent residents.
The review criticises the annual migration planning process as lacking a long-term perspective. Smooth and predictable migration allows planning for housing, schools, hospitals and the supply of goods and services, it notes.
“While successive governments have closely managed the permanent program (195,000 people in 2023), the temporary migrant cohort has been demand-driven and has doubled in size since 2007 and now stands at 1.8 million people.”
But Australia does not want to become a country of “permanently temporary” residents.
“While there is a place for genuinely temporary migration in Australia, there has been a rise in ‘permanently temporary’ migration. That has caused harm to Australia and to migrants, and undermined community confidence in the migration system,” the report says.
“Had they been asked, it is hard to conceive of Australians willingly agreeing to the creation of a ‘permanently temporary’ cohort of workers, akin to guest-workers seen in some other countries.”
Among other findings, the inquiry says:
migrants can wait up to 40 years to have their parents join them permanently
migrant women need more opportunities
many humanitarian immigrants are held back by their low English and skill levels
complicated recognition of skills presents problems for migrants
the migration system hasn’t been effective in encouraging migrants to settle in regional Australia
migration legislation is complex and hard to navigate.
The reports says: “Migration is central to the image Australia presents to the world of a diverse and welcoming society. However, elements of the migration system are undermining opportunities to strengthen ties in our region.
"Regional business and political leaders report they find it too difficult to travel to Australia, undermining Australia’s influence and trade connections within the Indo-Pacific region.
"The migration system has not assisted Australia to build diaspora communities from our closest neighbours in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, again limiting people to people connections.
"Temporary migration to Australia can be a source of strong remittance flows, boosting income and creating economic opportunity in the Pacific region. But care needs to be taken to ensure migration does not enourage a ‘brain-drain’ that robs Pacific Islands of capability and erodes their further prospects.”