Settlement peak bodies praise Canberra’s migration reforms

Posted on 12 Dec 2023

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

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Migrant advocacy organisations have welcomed the federal government’s long-awaited migration strategy announced this week.

The Settlement Council of Australia (SCOA) and Settlement Services International (SSI) said reform of the migration system was crucial for Australia’s future.

Both organisations, however, said more needs to be done to support migrants after they arrive on Australia’s shores.

The new strategy includes five objectives and eight key actions designed to reform Australia’s migration system and reduce the number of overseas arrivals.

Key initiatives include a crackdown on student visas being used as a “back door” by employers looking for cheap labour; new visas targeting highly skilled workers and tougher minimum language requirements.

The government said Australia's net migration level peaked at 510,000 last financial year and is forecast to fall to around 250,000 in 2025.

SCOA chair Melissa Monteiro praised the government’s commitment to permanency in the new strategy and its reduced reliance on temporary migration.

“Permanency has a positive impact on social cohesion, which we have in recent times seen declining,” said Ms Monteiro.

“People can focus on building their life and truly contribute to this country once they feel safe, secure, and know they belong.”

SCOA said the perceived lack of support received by newcomers to Australia was a major factor contributing to the nation losing out on key talent to other countries attractive to migrants, such as Canada.

“Given the global competition for skilled migrants, we need to work towards becoming an even more attractive destination,” said SCOA CEO Sandra Elhelw.

“One of the ways of doing this is ensuring some form of basic settlement services are available to all new entrants.”

Ms Elhelw said people who come to Australia to fill skill shortages will become future Australians.

“Currently, skilled migrants and their families are by and large left to fend completely for themselves upon arrival.

“To better attract and retain migrants to our shores, Australia has to be seen as a destination where new arrivals will be supported early on in their settlement journey.”

While acknowledging the economic benefits of migration, SCOA cautioned against viewing new arrivals purely through an economic lens.

Instead, Australia’s success as a multicultural nation rested on viewing new entrants as future Australians and supporting them to be as much a part of society socially and economically as every other Australian.

“We need a system that is simpler, fairer and gives people equal opportunities to build a safe and happy future in Australia.”
Settlement Services International CEO Violet Roumeliotis.

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said the strategy’s focus on improving Australia’s approach to skills recognition and assessment to better unlock the potential of migrants and refugees was particularly welcome.

“The difficulty in having qualifications and skills recognised in Australia means many skilled refugees and migrants in Australia are resorting to jobs well below their skill level,” said Ms Roumeliotis.

“This is a loss to individuals – who compromise on their dreams and quality of life – but also to the economy.”

Ms Roumeliotis said Australia could add $5 billion annually to the national economy by easing occupational licensing and recover an additional $1.25 billion over five years by properly using the capacity of skilled migrants.

Settlement Services International CEO, Violet Roumeliotis.

SSI praised Canberra for taking steps to improve skills assessment processes through enhanced assurance, standards and reporting, while also vowing to reduce complexity in the skills assessment sector.

The strategy acknowledged Australia has almost 40 different authorities governing skills assessment across 650 professions

“The Productivity Commission has described Australia’s skills assessment and recognition scheme as complex, time-consuming and bureaucratic,” said Ms Roumeliotis.

“With these reforms, we have the opportunity to change that.”

SSI also commended the strategy’s recognition of the need for concrete action to unlock the potential of migrant and refugee women, along with robust measures designed to tackle exploitation, mistreatment and harassment of newcomers.

“We need a system that is simpler, fairer and gives people equal opportunities to build a safe and happy future in Australia,” said Ms Roumeliotis.

“This strategy sets a vision for a more equitable, fairer migration system underpinned by robust policy settings.”

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