Migrant skills go to the top of the list

THE points system for skilled migrants that notoriously preferred hairdressers over Harvard scientists is about to be abolished.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is scheduled to announce in Sydney tomorrow a new points system in keeping with wider reforms to skilled migration.
The reforms shift the emphasis to high skill levels and employee sponsorship, making it harder for overseas students with low-quality Australian qualifications to secure permanent residency.
Stricter rules for skilled migration have damaged the business model used by private colleges and universities to attract students and fee revenue.
In China, Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans rejected any suggestion the commonwealth should compensate education providers for lost income.
“It’s not about us making up the shortfall. I mean, universities are a business,” he told the HES.
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“Some universities have gone into the international student market in a larger way than others.”
An officially sanctioned and relatively easy pathway from local qualification to permanent residency as a skilled migrant helped create a multibillion-dollar export education industry.
Now, graduates will have to fit within July’s new skilled occupation list, which gives prominence to high-skill jobs in health and engineering, and pass a strict new points test.
“The current weighting of points test factors leads to perverse outcomes such as the situation where a Harvard qualified environmental scientist with three years’ relevant work experience would fail the points test, while an overseas student who completes a 92-week course in a 60-point occupation [such as cookery or hairdressing] would, with one year’s experience, pass,” says a discussion paper issued by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
The test gave an advantage to low-skill occupations on the Migration Occupations in Demand List, which was axed in February by Senator Evans when he was immigration minister.
Monash University researcher Bob Birrell said a reformed points test would allow the government “to apply a more discriminating filter to select the best applicants”. This was possible because earlier decisions had slashed the number of points-tested places available while the number of former students seeking those places had risen sharply.
The discussion paper says in these circumstances, “Australia can, and should, select the best and brightest migrants for independent migration”.
Senator Evans said universities understood the danger of becoming too reliant on one market.
“I think most of them have managed that risk quite sensibly over the years,” he said. “They know they’re vulnerable to such movements, as other industries are, and they’ll just have to manage that as they work through the issues.
“But the fundamentally important issue at the moment is that the appreciation of the dollar is impacting on our export industries. It’s going to impact on education. But it’s not a question of the government picking up the tab for that lost revenue. They’ll have to adjust their businesses.
“My role is to try [to] support them by encouraging participation in international education in Australia.”
February’s discussion paper floats possible changes to reward superior levels of English and applicants with higher degrees. It also flags a relaxation of the emphasis on youth, saying the test “does not adequately recognise the trade-off between age and work experience, particularly for highly skilled professionals”.
It canvasses a possible end to the points bonus enjoyed by those with relatives in the country or with Australian qualifications.
The paper says local qualifications attracted extra points because of “the general quality” of Australian education and the fact studies were undertaken in English.
The poor English of foreign graduates from Australian institutions was one of the triggers for reform of skilled migration.
Maurene Horder, chief executive of the Migration Institute of Australia, said the new points system was keenly awaited.
She said students and the market were anxious for clarity after a year of upheaval.
Sydney immigration lawyer Peter Bollard said reform was necessary since the old points test was not performing as expected.
“It meant some people, especially with family sponsorship, could get through with very low skill levels,” he said.