Policies to give South Australia a migration program that will meet its needs

We have recently been undertaking research into the extent to which current migration policies meet South Australia’s needs, and how migration interacts with the broader economic challenges facing the state, in particular our ‘demographic deficit’ of an older, less active in the labour market, lower qualification, working age population.

These demographic challenges present some specific difficulties for South Australian employers that aren’t seen in the major cities on the east coast; not least that they can face labour shortages for semi- and low- skilled occupations as well as skilled occupations.

Our research found a number of aspects of the current migration system that did not meet the needs of the South Australian economy or South Australian employers, in particular that:

  • the use of a single level for the minimum wage level for jobs to be eligible temporary skilled visas (called the TSMIT) means that many positions in lower wages areas, which is most of South Australia, are locked out of the skilled migration system;
  • the current migration system lacks regional flexibility and is focussed on jobs with unmet demand nationally, whereas the skills gaps identified by many regional South Australian employers are often in different areas (and often for occupations that require Certificate III or equivalent which are not typically eligible for skilled worker visas);
  • it was felt that the visa subclass targeted at business owners and investors (the BIIP) generally does a poor job of increasing the number of entrepreneurs in Australia, or in assisting retiring business owners find potential purchasers, and that the local business environment, and the criteria around business size set for key streams of this visa made it even less suitable for South Australia’s needs.

In the final report from our study, we focus on the ways in which migration policy could be changed to meet the needs of South Australia (and regional Australia more broadly), rather than those of Sydney and Melbourne.

Most importantly we recommend re-introducing a temporary work visa that gives greater flexibility to regional needs, and allows local employers to address their own unmet demand, rather than positions in demand in the major cities. The key elements that we believe should be included in a temporary regional visa are:

  • A TSMIT that reflects local labour market conditions.
  • Allow access to a greater range of occupations (and to lower skill levels).
  • Allow greater pathways to permanent residence
  • Verification of compliance with visa conditions
  • Exempt regional employers from paying the new training levy if they meet a training benchmark based on good practice for their industry sector

Other key recommendations are to:

  • Reverse the recent changes to the RSMS program which will significantly reduce its flexibility
  • Re-target BIIP visas at those planning to establish or take over businesses in Australia by increasing visa grants for the ‘business innovation’ and ‘entrepreneur’ streams
  • Allow applicants for the ‘entrepreneur’ stream of the BIIP visa to access funds from a wider range of sources (at the moment entrepreneurs can only apply for this visa if they are receiving an investment from one of a small number of approved sources, and the approved sources do not reflect the funding sources generally accessed by Australian entrepreneurs.
  • Create a ‘start-up’ visa for those in the country temporarily on other grounds, allowing them temporary right to remain to pursue a business idea.
  • Increase regional flexibility in migration policy settings, including through the use of region specific occupations in the skill lists
  • Review the recent impact of changes to student visas on South Australian VET providers.
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