Blaming migrants won’t solve Western Sydney’s growing pains

Shanthi Robertson, Western Sydney University and Kristine Aquino, University of Technology Sydney

Population growth has profound impacts on Australian life, and sorting myths from facts can be difficult. This article is part of our series, Is Australia Full?, which aims to help inform a wide-ranging and often emotive debate.

Western Sydney is one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia. It’s also one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse, as a key arrival point for refugees and new migrants when they first settle in Australia.

Various public figures and media outlets have connected asylum-seeker intake and immigration to traffic congestion and queues at hospitals in Western Sydney.

However, this kind of reaction can pin the blame for infrastructure and affordability problems on culturally diverse populations who may have already lived in Australia for many years, if not several generations.

Growth from international and domestic migration

Greater Western Sydney includes Blacktown, the Blue Mountains, Camden,
Campbelltown, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Fairfield
Hawkesbury, Liverpool, Parramatta, Penrith, the Hills Shire and Wollondilly.

We examined census data compiled by WESTIR Ltd, a non-profit research organisation based in Western Sydney, partly funded by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services. These data show that Greater Western Sydney’s population increased by 9.8% between 2011 and 2016. Over the decade from 2006 to 2016, it grew by 16%.

About 55% of those living there were born in Australia, and about 39% where born elsewhere (the remainder did not state their place of birth). Most put English or Australian as their first response when asked about their ancestry.

New births are slightly down in the region, meaning growth is coming from other sources. This includes new international migration arrivals, but also incoming residents from other parts of New South Wales and interstate.

Greater Western Sydney has long-established cultural and linguistic diversity. The percentage of residents born overseas has increased from 34.1% in 2006 to 38.7% in 2016. Overall, the west accounts for 50.2% of the overseas-born population for the whole of metropolitan Sydney.

Reasoned debates on sustainable migration intake levels are a crucial part of discussions of urban and regional growth. There are valid criticisms of “Big Australia” policies, based on resource and environmental sustainability.

But while the number of new arrivals settling in Western Sydney has increased steadily since the second world war, with a significant jump over the last decade reflecting accelerated skilled migration policies to fill labour shortages, the majority of overseas-born living in the region are long-term settlers who have been in Australia for ten years or more.

Increasing diversity does not always mean more new migrant settlers

The data show that 64% of Western Sydney residents have at least one parent born overseas. This is greater than the number of those born overseas. This correlates with national data indicating that Australian-born second-generation migrant residents outnumber those born outside of Australia.

So while critics may look at non-white Western Sydney residents and assume they are recent migrants, what they’re often really seeing is multiple generations of multiculturalism. Most of these people are long-term local residents, not necessarily a sudden influx of new arrivals.

In addition, not all overseas-born residents are permanent settlers. Australia takes far larger numbers of temporary entrants than it has in the past. Most of these temporary visa holders, such as international students and temporary skilled workers, live in major metropolitan areas and their surrounds, like Western Sydney.

While some portion of these populations do stay on longer-term, they are not all permanent settlers who will add to long-term population growth. Net migration figures, which take into account people who depart Australia every year as well as arrive, and exclude short-term visitors, have generally been decreasing over the past six years.

Who do we define as ‘migrants’?

New Zealand citizens moving under Trans-Tasman agreements and migrants from the United Kingdom are still among the largest migrant groups in Greater Western Sydney.

In many local government areas in Western Sydney – such as Wollondilly, the Hills Shire, Penrith, Hawkesbury and Campbelltown – England and/or New Zealand feature in the top five countries of birth of overseas-born residents.

If anxieties about migration and population in Western Sydney are based on genuine sustainability concerns and not xenophobia, why target mostly refugees and non-white migrants? Why focus only on areas with large non-white and non-English-speaking background populations?

Migrants do use infrastructure, but also drive economic and jobs growth

It’s never as simple as one new arrival “using up” an allocation of limited resources, whether jobs, housing, or seats on trains. In fact, new arrivals fill the gaps of an ageing workforce, and current migration policies are targeted to favour younger migrants and specific skills shortages.

Western Sydney, like many regions in Australia, has an ageing population. Residents aged 65-74 years increased from 6.2% in 2011 to 7.2% in 2016.

Large-scale infrastructure – whether the slated new airport or the Westmead hospital – requires young and often skilled workers.

Nationally, recently arrived overseas-born residents have a lower median age and a higher level of education than Australian-born residents.

Infrastructure problems are also problems of policy, planning and funding, rather than just population numbers. Problems in transport and health infrastructure in Western Sydney cannot be easily solved by reactive anti-immigration attitudes or policies.

Cuts to programs like the humanitarian program or skilled temporary work visas, where the intake numbers remain relatively small as a proportion of the overall population, will not solve those infrastructure problems.

Western Sydney is growing, and with growth comes growing pains. But equating the region’s rich cultural diversity with a population crisis is the wrong message to send.

The ConversationYou can read other articles in the Is Australia Full? series here.

Shanthi Robertson, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University and Kristine Aquino, Lecturer in Global Studies, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Speaking with: Shanthi Robertson and Ien Ang on migrants, refugees and Australia’s place in Asia

Dallas Rogers, Western Sydney University

Australia’s refugee and border protection policies have been in the spotlight again this week as riots broke out at the Christmas Island detention centre following the unexplained death of an escaped asylum seeker.

The incident happened just prior to a review of Australia’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council. Many countries criticised Australia’s tough stance on asylum seekers, and called on the government to end its policy of boat turnbacks, mandatory detention and offshore processing.

These are the latest episodes in Australia’s long and turbulent history with immigration. From the White Australia policy to Vietnamese refugees to the current turning back of boats, the treatment of migrants and refugees has long been controversial and divisive in Australia.

Dallas Rogers spoke with Shanthi Robertson and Ien Ang about national identities and the role migrants, refugees and borders will play in Australia during the so-called Asian century.

Subscribe to The Conversation’s Speaking With podcasts on iTunes, or follow on Tunein Radio.

Music from Free Music Archive: Night Owl by Broke For Free, 2044 by Alasdair Cooper, Dream (instrumental) by Chan Wai Fat, and Lo Ka Ping.

The ConversationAdditional audio: BBC News, RN Breakfast (ABC Radio National), Q&A (ABC TV), RT News, Reuters, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, ABC Lateline, The Australian Government.

Dallas Rogers, Urban Studies Lecturer, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Great wall of xenophobia makes for simplistic foreign investment debate

Dallas Rogers, Western Sydney University and Shanthi Robertson, Western Sydney University

The issue of Chinese investment in Australian property is an emotive one, peppered with lack of hard data and the spectre of xenophobia. The ABC’s Four Corners program “Great Wall of Money” this week took a wide look at the issue, profiling just who in China is investing in property here and why, as well as looking at the role of brokers and the regulatory failures of managing foreign real estate investment.

Our research shows the brokering agents and associated industries are often ignored in public discussions about the intersections between global real estate investment and transnational education and migration.

It is a mistake, however, to bring these very diverse motivations together under a united narrative about foreign real estate investment rule breaking, money laundering and corruption.

The super rich

Sophisticated multilingual digital real estate, migration and education sectors are
actively targeting three types of investors from countries such as China - foreign students, the new middle class and the super rich investors.

Work by UK researcher Chris Paris shows high net worth investors from China, Russia and other countries have displaced some long standing higher-income populations from their higher-income suburbs.

In particular the impact of super rich overseas buyers of real estate in London is “de-coupling” parts of city from the general dynamics of local housing markets.

Four Corners shows higher-income Sydney suburbs, such as Point Piper, are on the super rich’s real estate radar. But there is a danger in overwriting Paris’ analysis of London onto Australian cities.

Super rich investors are only one investor group and foreign real estate investment is less than 5% of Australia’s residential real estate economy. Early work presented at the Institute of Australian Geographers conference by Ilan Wiesel suggests more empirical data is needed on the enclaving of the super rich in Australian cities.

Investors and brokers

Studies from Sydney, Melbourne, London and Vancouver show different investor groups have very different motivations for investing in foreign real estate, and each group targets a different suite of property types.

Much like our research, Four Corners found Chinese investors are not all “super rich” or simply investing in Australia in pursuit of a financial return. Their motivations for buying property in Australia are complex and blended around lifestyle, status, educational opportunities, and often, their existing family connections to Australia.

They might be looking for a place for their children to live while they are studying, an opportunity for retirement to a good climate, a “holiday home” for leisure, or, for the super-rich, a lifestyle (with water views) that’s simply not possible to attain in China and a subsequent social status. While these buyers may not be citizens, they may be long-term residents or potential future citizens with strong existing connections to our cities.

Property investments often tie into long-term family migration and international education strategies. Chinese property investors are not simply annexing Australian housing as offshore assets – some are building portfolios, but many are buying “homes” rather than simply “properties” – places for them to live and enjoy.

Many globally mobile real estate professionals also have complicated cultural identities and nation-state allegiances. The binary between “Eastern” and “Western” international real estate, migration and educational brokerage has been shown to be a false dichotomy.

More than money laundering

Halfway through the show the Four Corners piece took a strange turn. The investigation shifted from foreign real estate investment onto corruption claims, spy networks and religious persecution in Mainland China.

There is a danger in rolling the diverse investors groups, property types and investor motivations into a discussion about corruption and money laundering. And there is also a xenophobia in associating “dirty money” specifically with Chinese investment practices, especially practices that are common across Chinese and non-Chinese investors.

For example, Australian super-rich individuals also finance their various investment ventures from diverse sources of transnational capital, employ brokers who work to help them exploit loopholes in taxation and investment law, and use intergenerational wealth transfer in business and property investment.

However, the question of who is responsible for managing and enforcing the “Great Wall of Money” remains.

After the 2014 Parliamentary Inquiry into Foreign Investment in Residential Real Estate it was clear the Federal government was planning to make an example out of some foreign investor “rule breakers”.

However, as one of the authors suggested at the time, apart from political point scoring, catching the rule breakers will have a marginal impact on the domestic residential housing market.

This move has simply shifted the public debate from a discussion about invading foreign investors to a discussion about foreign rule breakers.

Certainly, the government needs to better regulate the movement of people and capital through Australian real estate and address the money laundering question. The Parliamentary Inquiry showed the government needs to improve its data collection process to achieve this goal.

The ConversationBut blaming foreign investors wholesale and making the global real estate, migration and other industries responsible for managing and enforcing foreign investment and migration seems untenable.

Dallas Rogers, Urban Studies Lecturer, Western Sydney University and Shanthi Robertson, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Temporary migrants are people, not ‘labour’

Shanthi Robertson, Western Sydney University and Martina Boese, La Trobe University

This week’s Four Corners expose on the plight of underpaid international students at 7-Eleven franchises comes as a Senate inquiry investigates the rights of temporary migrant workers.

The inquiry is looking at the vulnerability of migrant workers to exploitation; the compliance challenges of temporary migration; and the question of whether migrants are displacing local workers. Yet many larger questions about what temporary migration means to Australian society remain unanswered and indeed are rarely asked.

More than one million temporary migrants are currently resident in Australia, making up approximately 6-8% of the workforce.

The huge increase in temporary migration programs that we are seeing today represents a disruption of the “settler migrant” paradigm of old. Yet we don’t know enough about the lives of temporary migrants outside the workplace. What are the social circumstances of nearly one million residents living and working on temporary visas? And what are the consequences of temporary migration for these migrants’ families and for communities and Australian society overall?

A path to permanency

Both statistical and sociological work shows that temporary migration programs are in fact very closely connected to permanent intakes. About 50% of permanent residencies are now granted to migrants already living onshore on temporary visas, and a proportion of offshore PR grants go to migrants who have previously lived in Australia on temporary visas.

Almost 50% of Temporary Work (Skilled) or subclass 457 visas are also granted to onshore applicants. Around 142,405 student visa holders transitioned onto another visa after study in 2012-2013.

What these figures show is that for many migrants temporariness has become long-term and multi-staged, with the path to permanent residency and citizenship non-linear.

Overseas research, especially from Canada, has shown that extended periods with a temporary status have long-term impacts on migrants even after they become permanent — in terms of labour market integration and income, but also in terms of social wellbeing. Living in Australia for a long time across different visa statuses is “precarious” both within the labour market and more broadly. This precariousness is characterised by a general uncertainty about the future; pressures to make decisions about careers and other life choices in relation to migration outcomes; and a lack of access to social and political rights despite extended periods paying tax and living in the Australian community.

Families and temporariness

The focus on temporary migrants as workers often leaves out any analysis of their social and family lives.

Several temporary visa categories (including students, 457 workers and graduate workers) grant the right to have spouses and dependants in Australia. This sets them apart from temporary migration programs in many other countries. However, these families have limited access, depending on their specific visa category, to free public education, Medicare, government-funded legal assistance and many other forms of social security.

There are a wide-range of potential implications for areas like education, domestic violence prevention and maternal child health. With spouse visas being a key pathway to permanent residency for temporary migrants, visa conditions also have significant impacts on intimate relationships. Marriage and children can be delayed until migration goals are achieved, or relationships can be accelerated or sustained past their use-by date for the sake of partner visas.

Continued periods on temporary visas can also affect migrants’ relations with offshore family and how they negotiate care of elders, marriage and financial support across borders. Family reunion is available only to those with permanent residency or citizenship, so an individual’s migration journey can in fact be a collective investment in the future of a family. For example, permanent residency can enable better options for children’s future education, parents’ retirement, or siblings’ work opportunities. This raises the stakes of the transformation of temporariness into permanence.

People need people

Understanding the social networks of temporary migrants is also crucial. Social networks can be highly supportive and dramatically improve migrants’ sense of wellbeing and belonging, as well as access to work. Peers can educate each other about rights, trade information about support services, and develop grassroots institutions that assist other temporary migrants.

NGOs or informal support networks (including online networks) often fill the gaps for those without access to government-funded services, providing advice on everything from legal rights to health and housing. Established ethnic communities can provide a basis of support for temporary migrants, but there is also concerning evidence of co-ethnic exploitation, where employers or intermediaries such as labour hire companies benefit from the particular vulnerabilities of temporary migrant workers.

It is time for a more rigorous discussion of temporary migration that includes but goes beyond the labour market experiences of migrant workers.

“They called for labour but people came.”

The ConversationThis much-quoted observation on the European guest worker programs of the 1960s by Swiss writer Max Frisch still rings true.

Shanthi Robertson, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University and Martina Boese, Lecturer, Sociology, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Speaking with: Shanthi Robertson on the changing face of migration

Dallas Rogers, Western Sydney University

Immigration is a contentious topic in many parts of the world, and the debate in Australia has been predictably framed around asylum seekers, the burdens on taxpayers and the protection of local jobs. This narrow focus has meant migrants are often divided into categories of “good” and “bad”.

The reality is a lot more complex and nuanced. For much of Australia’s history, most migrants were permanent settlers. Now, increasing numbers of temporary visitors – students, working holiday makers and temporary workers – are arriving. The shift in the nature of migration and the make-up of migrants has had significant flow-on effects on the economy and society which are often forgotten.

Dallas Rogers speaks with Shanthi Robertson about the changing face of migration in Australia and the complex relationships between governments, migrants and commercial industries throughout the migration process.

Subscribe to The Conversation’s Speaking With podcasts on iTunes, or follow on Tunein Radio.

The ConversationMusic: Free Music Archive/Blue Dot Sessions: Liquor Files

Dallas Rogers, Urban Studies Lecturer, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Skilled migration is in trouble, but don’t shoot the messenger

Shanthi Robertson, Western Sydney University

Recently leaked Immigration department documents reveal considerable rates of visa fraud in the Australian immigration system. This is of grave concern to the Australian public, especially as unemployment has just jumped to its highest level in twelve years. While some of the reporting on this issue has been unduly alarmist, there are very real concerns here about the capacity of the Australian immigration regime to police its own systems.

As the leaked Operation Blueberry report notes, immigration fraud is a multi-million dollar industry involving multiple players in Australia and overseas.

An often under-addressed issue of regulation is the mushrooming “migration industry”- a complex and transnational web of agents, lawyers, labour recruiters, accommodation brokers and loan sharks. Mostly paid by migrants themselves or by employers, these businesses facilitate much of the migration process.

Accredited Australian lawyers and agents are often above board, but the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) lacks capacity to regulate and prosecute the murky international network of formal and informal migration brokers. It is these brokers, as well as employers, who are often complicit in the production of what migration researchers Bridget Anderson and Martin Ruhs call “semi-compliance”– migrants who enter or reside in a country with a legal visa, but are in breach of their visa conditions in some way.

Semi-compliance is a particular concern in temporary migration schemes. Examples include a working holiday maker who works cash-in-hand beyond the six month time limit with one employer, or a 457 visa worker hired as a project manager who in fact ends up doing low-skilled manual or administrative work.

Another common problem revealed in the reports is the falsification of work experience for temporary migrants to gain a permanent visa. These types of fraud not only damage the integrity of our visa system, but also put migrants’ workplace rights severely at risk.

A department with more bark than bite

But investigating and prosecuting these types of fraud is resource and labour intensive. The leaked Sievers Report highlights the severity of the challenges in an increasingly under-resourced department.

Alongside the stripping of staff and resources from its main investigation offices, the department is unable to pay qualified and experienced staff, leading to a deskilled investigative workforce.

Another key issue is the budgetary pressures on the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP), which Sievers believes leads to reluctance by the CDPP to pursue prosecutions from evidence brought forward by the department. This particularly stymies the ability of the department to go after and to deter “high value targets” – the big players in the migration fraud industry – rather than just providing an ultimately ineffective “slap on the wrist” to small numbers of individual migrants and businesses.

The department rightly noted in its response to the leak that some of the more damning reports are several years old and relate to policies that have already been revised. It denies that rorting is systemic and points to a number of recent improvements to integrity measures. The department acknowledges, however, that enforcement will always be a challenging space and that some level of fraud is unavoidable.

Will the government act?

The business lobby will always put strong pressure on a Coalition government to keep labour migration fairly flexible, while those concerned about foreign workers’ rights and the impact on local workers will push for more careful regulation. But the government can’t have it both ways in the battle to balance quality over quantity in the migration system.

For example, the program that seems to provide the biggest “win-win-win” scenario in terms of importing crucial labour, protecting local jobs, and providing opportunity to migrants is the best-practice Seasonal Workers Program (SWP). However, due to the careful vetting and monitoring of employers and the resources required to do so, this scheme is likely to remain very small in terms of numbers.

The ConversationThe leaked DIBP reports should not be a call to begin to drastically cut immigration ad hoc, nor to see all migrants as potentially fraudulent or criminal. The migration program remains highly significant to Australia’s overall economic and social development. The frustration of DIPB staff in their lack of capacity to do their jobs is palpable, however, and needs to be addressed with some very careful consideration of how regulatory resources should best be increased and distributed.

Shanthi Robertson, Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

‘Good’ migrants and ‘bad’ migrants: the Coalition’s policy paradox

Tjvbc7nx 1381195402.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Backpackers make up a hidden stream of labour in Australia. But what makes a ‘good’ migrant for policy-makers, and why is there a distinction?
Siim Teller

Shanthi Robertson, Western Sydney University

In his short period in office so far, prime minister Tony Abbott has been taken to task on two issues with important neighbours: asylum seeker boats arriving from Indonesia, and the rights of New Zealanders living in Australia on temporary visas. A recent Monash University report also warns that the increase in the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) program is contributing to the unemployment of local Australian youth.

Constructing migrants as “good” or “bad” for Australia is a complex process. In the populist imagination, “bad” migrants are welfare-dependent, unskilled, and culturally different. “Good” migrants, on the other hand, are highly skilled, wealthy, independent and either culturally similar or willing to assimilate.

So, what do contentions around these very different types of migrants tell us about the way immigration may be framed in Australia over the next three years?

Conservative governments in general face a paradox when it comes to immigration policy. Although their support base favours a “tough on immigration” stance, business and industrial lobbies push for fewer restrictions on importing foreign workers. In the US, this paradox has led to harsh levels of border security, such the militarisation of the Mexico-US border during the Bush administration, alongside very limited controls on the employment of undocumented workers, whose labour has become vital to particular industries.

Resolving the paradox in Australia involves some key political moves. Political parties tend to create simplistic discourses around desirable or “good” migrants and undesirable or “bad” migrants, and maintain streams of foreign labour that remain somewhat hidden from public view.

International students, backpackers, former students on temporary graduate visas and New Zealanders all fall into this second category of “invisible” streams of foreign labour. Election debates on immigration focused solely on asylum seeker boat arrivals and 457 skilled visas. Migrants in these other categories effectively bypass many of the stringent control mechanisms of skilled migration programs. However, they provide increasingly valuable skilled and unskilled labour to various industries.

Media focus on the “bad” migrants serves to deflect attention from these hidden migration schemes and from an overall “liberalisation” of immigration policy. The Howard government generally focused on demonising asylum seeker arrivals: a strategy that was highly effective in deflecting attention from its record skilled immigration intakes and its expansion of work rights for international students and working holiday makers.

The recent calls for New Zealanders to gain more rights to social welfare and permanent residence have been based on the idea that they are “good workers” and have a shared social and cultural history with Australia.

Many recent migrants work in poorly paid jobs which locals are unwilling to do.

At the coalface of the labour market, however, the realities of what makes a “good” foreign worker can differ from the public image of an elite, highly-skilled and English-speaking migrant. Particular industries in Australia desire migrants who are cheap, expendable, and willing to do dirty and dangerous work. Temporary visa statuses and weak language skills can be a boon to unscrupulous employers, as they mean that workers are more likely to put up with poor conditions and low pay.

Despite arguments from the Monash report that backpackers are “taking jobs” from local young people, it remains a very hard sell for employers to convince Australian youth to stay in small towns and work in abattoirs and orchards when they have the alternative options of studying or receiving unemployment benefits.

Research shows that recent refugees end up in the low status and low-paid jobs that locals avoid. These include jobs such as cleaning, aged care, meat processing, taxi driving and construction. Those taking working holidays in Australia similarly fill gaps in insecure and seasonal agricultural and construction work, which is particularly important in the context of a resources boom that has drawn away local sources of labour.

The ConversationSo what can we expect on immigration from an Abbott government? Most likely, continued political grandstanding about asylum seeker policy. There will be little mention of the rights of migrant workers who are already here, and very little immigration policy reform that could genuinely be described as “tough”.

Shanthi Robertson, Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

They’re long-term, temporary and invisible: our other migrant workers

Jqvkktv3 1365052408.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Backpackers and international students provide a significant source of labour that is often long-term: but this is ignored by policy makers.

Shanthi Robertson, Western Sydney University

While 457 temporary visas are currently under political scrutiny, thousands of other temporary migrants are now able to work in Australia for extended periods - most notably through working holiday visas and temporary graduate visas.

These visas primarily attract young people seeking an overseas work and life experience, or a pathway to more permanent migration.

Yet, because these visa categories are usually associated with international education and tourism, their significance as forms of labour migration are effectively hidden from public view and often underplayed by policy makers.

Unlike 457 workers, these workers don’t require employer sponsorship or specific skills, and participate in the labour market in diverse ways. Since 2006, the working holiday scheme has offered a second visa, extending stays from one to two years for migrants willing to spend three months doing regional work in specified industries such as agriculture, fishing and pearling, or mining and construction.

This has been a boon to regional employers, particularly those needing seasonal labour. Working holiday makers are picking grapes in our wine regions, or serving us in bars and cafes in our major cities. But they also participate in jobs beyond the typical “backpacker” stereotypes, in areas like IT, healthcare and skilled trades. There is also increasing evidence that women on working holiday visas are a source of foreign labour for the Australian sex industry.

With the global economic recovery still limiting employment options for young people in core source countries such as Ireland, working holidays are increasingly more about work than an extended tourist experience. At the end of 2012 there were 162,000 working holiday makers in Australia, with the number of arrivals increasing by nearly 60% from 2005-06 to 2009-10.

The 2011 Knight Reviewof the student visa system has also liberalised temporary post-study work options for international students. From early 2013, international students who have completed at minimum a Bachelors level qualification (involving at least two years study in Australia) are eligible for a two to four year post-study work visa, depending on their level of qualification. In 2012 there were over 216,000 international students in university courses in Australia.

If only one third of these take up the temporary graduate visa, this constitutes 72,000 new temporary migrants into the workforce. Employers can benefit from the temporary graduate scheme, gaining locally qualified workers, often with valuable multilingual skills and cultural capital. If these workers fill “in-demand” gaps on the Consolidated Sponsored Occupations List, they could also be sponsored and stay on at the end of their graduate visa period.

However, international graduates are not always considered “work ready” by industry, and Australian employers are often generally reluctant to hire workers with temporary visa statuses, particularly for professional positions. The new temporary graduate visas are primarily a means to maintain Australia’s education export market, as post-study work rights have become, globally, an important factor in international students’ choice of study destination.

What remains to be seen is whether Australian employers will give temporary graduates a go, or if too many graduates will end up underemployed and deskilled - reiterations of the old student-migrant trope of the taxi driver or convenience store worker with an Australian MBA.

Working holiday and temporary graduate schemes are important to the Australian economy and to Australian business. They shore up the international student market and the tourism industry. They allow important cultural and professional links to be forged between Australia and migrants’ home countries. And, they provide a workforce to fill specific skilled and unskilled labour market gaps.

However, these visa categories need to be properly acknowledged as important forms of labour migration, and the consequences of a long-term temporary workforce need to be carefully considered by both government and industry. “Visa churn” means temporary migrants can often remain in Australia on a series of temporary visas for far longer than their graduate or working holiday period allows. A migrant can arrive in Australia as an international student, complete an undergraduate and a Masters degree, and then work under a Temporary Graduate 485 visa for three years.

Similarly, a migrant could begin on a working holiday visa for two years, gain sponsorship and work on a 457 visa for four years, and then commence postgraduate study on a student visa. With casual work rights available to student visa holders, both pathways encompass at least eight to nine years of work and residency in Australia with a temporary status. Generally, the longer people stay, the longer they want to stay, yet these pathways do not guarantee permanent residency.

Socially and politically, legal classifications of “temporary” are problematic when migrants have many years of labour market participation, residency and paid taxes behind them. Moreover, Australia will have long-term members of society without access to many government-funded social services and welfare benefits, as well as potential for worker exploitation, and for the integration of temporary workers into grey labour economies.

The ConversationFor these schemes to be successful for both employers and migrants, we need acknowledgement that temporary graduates and working holiday makers are important sources of migrant labour, and ensure their skills are properly utilised, and their rights adequately protected.

Shanthi Robertson, Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Scroll to top