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Australian Government to Maintain Immigration Levels, Focus on Skilled Labor Intake

No cut of skilled migrants,

Priority for those with medical, IT, engineering and construction skills

Sydney — Fears that international economic woes would force Australia to cut migrant numbers have proved unfounded, with the government pledging to maintain the record intake and to focus on those offering critically needed skills.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans, who had earlier hinted that the worldwide slowdown might lead to a scaling down of the annual migration programme, has instead heeded the advice of the business community and promised to keep the door open to new settlers.

In May, the quota for the skilled migration programme was raised from 102,500 to 133,500 and this will remain as the target figure for 2008-09.

But the minister also cautioned that the government would retain the ability to cap the programme below that figure if necessary. The only change will be a greater emphasis on fast-tracking skilled migrants who have a confirmed job to go to, or have work experience of crucial need.

‘The overwhelming message is that we need to maintain a skilled migration programme but one that is more targeted,’ Senator Evans said.

‘This will ensure our migration programme is more responsive to the needs of the economy and assists industries still experiencing skills shortages,’ he explained.

Skilled migrants had become concentrated in occupations such as accounting, cooking and hairdressing, while shortages in other areas had not been met, he said. There were concerns that in these areas, employers were forced to meet their needs through a temporary visa scheme.

In the last three years, just five occupations out of the hundreds available accounted for almost half of the visas granted to applicants.

Under the new scheme, migrants with medical, information technology, engineering and construction skills will be given priority treatment.

‘Fast-tracking professionals on the critical skills list will ensure that the economy gets the skills it needs now, not just those applicants who applied first,’ the minister said.

Australia’s decision to maintain numbers was welcomed by the industry, which was worried that the government might lose its nerve in the current economic climate.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Trade said it was a ‘well considered and manageable’ decision. ‘Although the government has made some changes, it has properly resisted any knee-jerk response that would see skilled immigration numbers arbitrarily cut,’ said its chief executive Peter Anderson.

‘To have done so without case-by-case assessment would have been a mistake and a drag on our economy at a time when we need every productive asset in play.’

Immigration has always played a key role in the Australian economy, contributing millions of dollars a year to state and federal coffers.

A recent study by economic consulting firm Access Economics found that the fiscal benefits from taxation and visa charges far outweighed the costs that migrants imposed on health, education, welfare, employment and settlement services.

With many Australians reaching retirement age, continued migration also offers a ready supply of workers for the future.

‘The bottom line is that our migration programme is vital to keep the economy going as well as help Australian businesses overcome skills and shortages,’ Senator Evans pointed out.


Source: The Straights Times (Singapore), December 19, 2008

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