SUBMISSION TO THE DEPARTMENT OF HOME AFFAIRS: MANAGING AUSTRALIA’S MIGRANT INTAKE DISCUSSION PAPER

February 2018

Universities Australia is the peak body representing Australia’s 39 comprehensive universities in the national interest. We welcome the opportunity to provide feedback on the Department of Home Affairs’ discussion paper “Managing Australia’s Migrant Intake” issued as a part of the department’s annual consultation on Australia’s migration program.

Australia’s migration program needs to support the maintenance of a strong and dynamic university system, recognising the central role universities play in producing the graduates needed to for Australia to succeed in the knowledge economy. Australia’s universities are invested in our migration program both as employers of highly-skilled staff from around the world, and educators of our future workforce. The global nature of our sector enables our universities to produce work-ready graduates and world-leading research. We support a continued emphasis on skilled migration within Australia’s migration planning and to ensure accessible pathways to permanency for temporary migrants who demonstrate commitment in contributing to Australia’s long-term economic and social development.|

MIGRATION AND THE NATIONAL AGENDA

Key national strategies can only be achieved through the development of a migration program that attracts the world’s best and brightest to work and study in Australian universities. This is particularly important in supporting the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda. The science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines operate in a highly competitive environment. It is of upmost importance that Australia is able to attract the best talent in a timely and transparent manner in order to reach these national goals. A fair, clearly communicated and transparent migration program will also assist in realising the objectives Government’s objectives as set out in the Australian Government’s National Strategy for International Education (2025). 

 

THE GLOBAL KNOWLEDGE MARKETPLACE

Perhaps more than any other sector in Australia universities operate in an open, international labour market, characterised by a two-way flow of academic talent. Australia makes a substantial contribution to the global academic talent pool, with time spent in an overseas institution considered an important part of academic professional development. Universities employ talent in a highly competitive, international environment, recruiting academic specialists across all fields of academia.

It is the nature of university work that the academic workforce is highly skilled and somewhat older than the general workforce, with leading academics and core university leadership staff often over 50 years of age. At present, prospective employees over the age of 50 are not eligible for the Employer Nominated Scheme (subclass 186 and 187). As such, the process of setting age limits for skilled visas needs to consider progression of senior academic and administrator’s career paths relative to age and the need for universities to attract top-level talent.

Universities need to have the ability to target and preference academic leaders that would benefit Australia’s national interests. The Distinguished Talent Visa is presently capped at 200 per year. This quota is highly restrictive. We strongly recommend its removal as a key impediment to recruiting from the top echelon of world-leading researchers.

 

PROFESSIONAL STAFF WITHIN UNIVERSITIES

It addition to the need for highly skilled academic staff, it is important to recognise the overall operations of universities, particularly the need for specialist professional staff where domestic shortages exist. A prime example here is in the area of advancement and philanthropy. This is a relatively new discipline for Australia and the pool of domestic expertise that universities can draw from is small. As such universities need to be able to attract the best from around the world not only to help meet the rapidly increasing demand but, most importantly, to build domestic capacity and capability. The migration system, therefore, needs to be sufficiently flexible to ensure that these needs can be met – in the nation’s best interests – despite the absence of a specific discipline category and in meeting Governments’ desire for universities to increase and strengthen their philanthropic endeavours.

CLEAR AND ACCESSIBLE PATHWAYS TO PERMANENT RESIDENCY

The attraction and retention of highly qualified individuals relies on immigration and citizenship pathways that can be easily navigated. Clear and accessible pathways to permanent residency are important for senior academics and university administrators. The prospect of a transition to permanent status is one of the deciding factors in attracting highly-sought after researchers and academics that give Australia a competitive edge over other countries.

While temporary visa holders should not have an automatic right to permanent residence, they should have the right to hold that ambition.

A smooth pathway for those potential migrants who have demonstrated their intent, commitment and investment by obtaining a significant Australian qualification is in the national interest. Applicants who have obtained a qualification from an Australian university should have this recognised in any subsequent application for migration.

The skilled migration program needs certainty of outcomes. While mandatory time spent in Australia before eligibility for permanent residency supports a prospective migrant’s investment in Australia, it will adversely affect those who want the certainty of permanency before they relocate. Many international candidates for senior roles within universities are unwilling to accept offers of employment in Australia unless they know they can obtain permanent residency before leaving their countries of origin. In fact, the desire to obtain permanent residency as part of taking on a role in an Australian university, only reinforces the commitment of the candidate in contributing to Australia’s knowledge economy. Exceptions for any mandatory temporary residence for individuals in a university-specific teaching and research role would strengthen Australia’s international competitiveness in this sector.

Ensuring there are adequate pathways to facilitate permanency will bolster the success of the temporary migration program. Australia’s Temporary Graduate Visa (subclass 485) is a key component of the nation’s overall migration program and provides Australian employers with a pipeline of global talent in possession of world-class Australian higher education qualifications. Universities Australia strongly supports the continuation of this visa and encourages clear and accessible pathways to permanent residency for international students, academics and university administrators.

MIGRATION AND HIGHER EDUCATION IN REGIONAL AUSTRALIA

Universities Australia supports the use of the migration program to support migration to regional Australia. In-bound migration to regional Australia is vital to economic and social capacity building. This often offsets a net outward migration towards major cities of often younger individuals from regional communities. Our universities are central to a migration program that both sustains and develops regional Australia.

International students contribute to the economic well-being of regional communities. Migration is also an important source of high-quality academic staff and research students for regional universities who, in turn, enhance the reputation and standing of these institutions and further contribute to the communities in which they are based.

Migration data from the Department of Home Affairs shows permanent skilled visas granted to those who have previously held an international student visa are remaining steady, although they are declining in regional Australia. Between 2013 – 2014 there was a 75 per cent drop in permanent skilled regional visas granted to former international students1. Clearly much work in needed to provide incentives for international students to choose regional Australia as a migration destination.

Universities Australia advocates for permanent migration pathways that support organisations that operate in regional areas. Innovative approaches to pathways for international students in regional Australia could provide a major impetus to the Commonwealth regional development agenda, Regions 2030: Unlocking opportunity. Australia’s permanent migration program should acknowledge the potential of international students and academics as future migrants who will contribute to the economic and cultural growth of regional communities.

COMMUNICATION, CLARITY AND CERTAINTY

Careful communication about changes to the migration program assists in the mitigation of risk in the higher education sector. Consistency of migration processes have a direct impact on Australian universities ability to recruit international students and staff. Changes in the system – whether large or small – create uncertainty. It is essential that all changes are well communicated to stakeholders and the public in a timely manner.

Regular public awareness and information campaigns aimed at the Australian general public would help clarify any misconceptions about the steps required for new migrants to arrive in Australia. A comprehensive and carefully managed communications strategy would maximise the intended benefits of Australia’s migration program and ensure migrants are best equipped to contribute to our economic prosperity, national wellbeing and social cohesion.

Please feel free to contact Dr John Wellard, Policy Director International should you have any questions or require further information regarding this submission j.wellard@universitiesaustralia.edu.au