“With our international borders all but shut, and our net overseas migration at a negative rate not seen in more than a century, it is no surprise that the most frequently raised issue of concern by businesses is the inability to fill positions,” Innes Willox Chief Executive of the national employer association Ai Group said today.
“While the intrusion of the Delta variant, the relatively slow start to vaccination and the reintroduction of restrictions particularly in the south-east corner of the country pushed the prominence of skill shortages aside for a while, they are already coming back with a vengeance. Unless they are addressed quickly and effectively they will hold back the recovery that is now underway.
“The two keys to addressing the pressing skills and labour shortages are a faster opening of international borders to all and a significant lifting of the annual migration intake.
“Business is totally in favour of lifting investments in, and improving the responsiveness of our training systems in order to develop the domestic workforce, but progress is slow and there are very long lead times. Alongside this, as a matter of urgency, we need to reopen the country to demand-driven immigration whether that is from regional Australia; our health providers; or the many businesses from across the economy who want to get on with the job of recovery.
“Prior to the pandemic the Federal Government replaced the annual migration target of 190,000 with a ceiling of 160,000. This is no longer right for the times and, at the very least the permanent migration planning level should be restored to the previous target of 190,000 places per year. There is a strong case for considerably more than this while we catch up on recent losses.
“Within this total, even greater priority should be given to the skilled migration stream, especially to the demand-driven skilled migration components.
“Raising our migration intake is a must which should be a completely non-controversial decision that will help our COVID recovery and quickly address endemic skill shortages.
“Increasing the migration cap to 190,000 would provide an important signal of government support for the skilled migration program and help deliver a measurable ‘demographic dividend’ that will raise output and incomes across the economy.
“The NSW Premier has upped the ante with his plans for an international border reopening. Other states should follow suit and get their internal and international borders open as soon as possible.
“The Federal Government also needs to remove the brakes it has applied to the NSW international border reopening plan. By retaining visa entry caps on categories other than returning Australians the Federal Government is putting an unnecessary barrier in place. If there was open entry for all double vaccinated and tested travellers, the airlines would respond with greater capacity to the benefit of all.
“The international border situation is also needlessly complicated for returning travellers. From November there will be limitless outbound travel from any state but initially only NSW will accept incoming fully-vaccinated visitors without quarantine on return. This is a huge disincentive to overseas travel, with someone leaving Brisbane or Perth for example, only able to return to Sydney or else they would be forced into quarantine.
“All states need to welcome back returning Australians, working visa holders, students, tourists and all visitors as soon as practicable. The costs of not doing so will fall squarely on their own citizens and businesses,” Mr Willox said.