The Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs References has released its Report into the effectiveness of the temporary skilled visa system in targeting genuine skills shortages, presenting the federal government with 21 recommendations for change.

It builds on the Federal Coalition Government intending to adopt all 22 recommendations of the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce Report, including criminalisation of serious worker exploitation and establishing a National Labour Hire Registration Scheme.

The report focuses on Australia’s current temporary skilled visa system, the impact of recent changes made to the system, determination of occupation eligibility settings for the temporary skilled visa system, effectiveness of current labour market testing and the use of labour agreements.

It also discusses the Skilling Australians Fund and local training initiatives to address skills shortages, along with visa compliance and enforcement framework.

Sections of the report likely to be of most relevance to resources and energy employers detail proposed changes to Labour Market Testing (LMT) and occupation list eligibility.

Labour market testing should be more rigid – report

The business community was disappointed to see the Senate Committee recommend even more cumbersome labour market testing (LMT) for employers seeking to engage overseas skilled labour.

LMT has long been a feature of Australia’s temporary skilled migration programs, dating back to the 457 visa scheme. The measures are intended to ensure that employers seeking to nominate a worker for a Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa properly demonstrate that no suitably qualified and experienced Australian is readily available to fill the nominated position.

Employers have consistently argued LMT merely creates additional paperwork with no practical benefit or justification and should be abolished. Nonetheless, backed by a concerted union and ALP campaign, each skilled migration review since 2015 has seen the political momentum for making LMT even more cumbersome, strict and restrictive has only snowballed further.

This most recent review saw the Senate Committee hear a number of submissions on LMT.

Concerns were raised about LMT requirements created unnecessary red tape for businesses and being ineffective in achieving the stated outcome of protecting Australian jobs.

It was also noted they were impractical due to the prescriptive restrictions on timeframes for undertaking labour market testing and the way in which it must be conducted.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) expressed its support for either abolishing LMT for TSS visas, or easing it for high-wage occupations and renewals, and described LMT as an additional layer on top of the ‘enormous application costs and ballooning delays’ that businesses must navigate.

It also argued that LMT severely restricts businesses’ ability to respond flexibly to their workforce needs. The Committee recommended a review be undertaken to review the use and effectiveness of labour agreements under Australia’s skilled migration program.

In contrast, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) expressed strong support for the ongoing use of LMT arrangements to ensure the integrity of the temporary skilled visa program.

It went further in arguing for strengthened LMT, claiming employers were circumventing the intent of its requirements, and called for ‘more rigorous evidentiary requirements for labour market testing be incorporated into legislation and associated program guidelines’.

This was reflected in the Committee’s recommendations, calling for the Australian Government to introduce more stringent evidentiary requirements for labour market testing to ensure that the intent of labour market testing arrangements is achieved and Australian employment opportunities are protected.

Strengthened LMT for temporary skilled visas is a feature of the ALP pre-election policy platform.

Occupation lists

The Committee examined how occupation eligibility settings for the temporary skilled visa system are determined, particularly how occupations are placed on the three Skilled Migration Occupation Lists (Short-term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL), Medium and Long-term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL) and Regional Occupation List (ROL).

The effectiveness of list reviews was also under the microscope, along with research and analysis undertaken by the Department of Jobs and Small Business (DJSB) on skills shortages occupations and the role of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO), which underpins the skilled migration lists.

A number of issues around the skilled occupation lists were raised including concerns it does not reflect genuine skills shortages, industry uncertainty due to occupations being regularly added, removed or transferred between the skilled occupation lists.

The complexity of the occupation lists, lack of transparency on how decisions are made and concerns around consultation and research methodology, were also concerns heard by the Committee.

The ACTU proposed that skills assessment processes ‘must be significantly strengthened’ and called for all testing is performed by an appropriate industry body and not by immigration officials, more verification of workers skills and the work they performed.

This proposal was another included in the Committee’s recommendations, along with various other layers of union-inspired licensing and assessment.

ACCI was one of many stakeholders calling for an urgent and comprehensive review of the skill-based system used to classify occupations and jobs, The Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) framework, as it had not kept pace with modern workforce trends.

Uncertainty resulting from changes to the occupation lists was also raised, arguing that the current system of skilled migration lists is unnecessarily complex, and that the number of changes and the timing of revision to lists has resulted in significant uncertainty for employers and visa holders.

The Committee’s recommended reasons for including new occupations, moving occupations between the different lists, or removing occupations altogether that were included in previous iterations of the lists, be published by the Australian Government.

It also called for prioritisation of the Australian Bureau of Statistics review of the ANZSCO framework and recommended a new independent tripartite authority be established to provide advice and recommendations to government on skilled migration issues.

A Dissenting Report by Liberal National Senator Ian Macdonald called the Inquiry “another example of the Senate Committee system being used by the Labor Party to conduct political and policy research at the taxpayers’ expense”.

AMMA continues push for high priority occupations

As AMMA has previously advocated directly to government, the committee heard that the removal of specialist maritime roles from the occupation lists in 2017 is likely to lead to a void of specialist mariners with the necessary skills and experience to fill key roles in Australian Ports and other maritime sectors.

AMMA continues to provide further information and evidence in relation to the remaining occupations ineligible for skilled migration under either list as part of industry consultation.

The occupations identified as high priority by AMMA members, in particular drilling and maritime industry roles, continue to be the focus of attention.

Unfortunately, the most recent update to the occupation lists shows none of the occupations identified by members as of concern to the resources and energy sector have been flagged for change. This will a continued focus area for AMMA during 2019.

For more information on skilled migration, please contact [email protected]