Overhauling Australia’s “Permanently Temporary” Migration System: Home Affairs Minister Urges Shift Towards Skilled Migrants

Overhaul of Australia’s Migrant System: Calls to Shift Away from “Permanently Temporary” Migration

Australia’s home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, has called for an overhaul of the country’s migrant system, citing a need to make it easier for skilled migrants to fill worker shortages and for talented international students to stay in the country for the long term. O’Neil criticized the complex and stringent migration system and likened Australia’s position in the global talent race to “turning up to the starter’s blocks…with lead weights tied around your ankles.”


The Need for an Overhaul

According to O’Neil, Australia’s reliance on temporary work is a “huge missed opportunity” for businesses. She criticized the rapid expansion in temporary migration under the former Coalition government, while the intake of skilled permanent migration remained relatively stagnant. She claimed that the “staggering change in direction” towards temporary migration had occurred through “negligence” rather than proper policy debate.

Australia currently has 1.9 million temporary migrants, excluding visitor and transit visas, compared to around one million in 2007 when Labor was last in power. The skilled migrant intake, however, has remained the same at 30,000 annually. O’Neil noted that while it is now easy for a low-skilled temporary migrant to enter Australia, the process for high-skilled permanent migrants is complex, slow, and unattractive. She called for an end to policies that create “permanently temporary” conditions, leaving migrants unable to invest in education or start a business.


The Opportunity with International Students

International students are an “untapped dividend,” according to O’Neil, but many are forced to leave after graduation. Approximately 40% of those who remain end up working in lower-skilled jobs than they are qualified for, partly due to a lack of a system for integrating them into the broader workforce. O’Neil noted that the process of recognizing overseas qualifications is slow and expensive, leaving qualified foreign workers with few options.

At Labor’s jobs summit in September 2022, employers and business representatives called for a larger permanent program. They complained that the onerous visa requirements were causing them to lose talent to other countries. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated shortages in a number of areas, from the health and aged care sectors to regional farm work.


The Need for Change

O’Neil warns that fixing Australia’s migration system is a “five-year project.” Labor is working with “broken pipes” left behind by the Coalition, and the government has commissioned a wide-scale review of the country’s migration system. The review will look into the “ideal size and composition” of permanent migration, assess what policy changes would make Australia more attractive to skilled foreigners, and is set to be released later this year.



The need to overhaul Australia’s migrant system is clear. O’Neil’s call to shift away from “permanently temporary” migration and seize the opportunity provided by skilled people already here and abroad is a step in the right direction. With a review of the system set to be released later this year, Australia may be on the brink of a significant change.

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