The Guardian • Issue #2051


Skilled Immigration: Must do better

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2051

The idea of skilled migration is deceptively simple. A lot of people in other countries want to live in Australia. We have to sort them out somehow. Why not make sure that the people allowed to move here have skills the country needs?

The reality is complicated. Skilled migration ticks a number of boxes for Australian governments. It keeps business lobbies happy. Business groups donate heavily to both major parties, so keeping them on side is important for the ALP and the Coalition. Business likes skilled immigration. They need skilled workers. They like the competition amongst employees that keeps wages low and keeps employees compliant. Australian business likes the idea of the “reserve army of the unemployed” that Marx described.

Governments also like skilled migrations for political reasons. Under Howard, the skilled migration system allowed the PM to bring in the extra workers businesses demanded, while catering to his party’s prejudice towards the upper middle class. Howard saw business and skilled migrants as so many pro-business Liberal voters, hopefully bringing in the petty-bourgeois values he prized. He could cater to racism by lying about the moral character of refugees, but keep business happy with hungry legal migrants.

Of course there were casualties. All migrants, refugee, skilled, and business migrant alike, suffered from the racism that Howard worked so hard to foster. His party is still at it, with recent lies about Black Australians.

Another casualty was the skilled migrants themselves. Under Howard and the governments that followed him, skilled migration was handled in a slapdash fashion, with thousands of unhappy migrants forced into categories to fit the “points system,” studying subjects that didn’t suit them, and repetitively sitting language tests they didn’t need. Waiting times for visas grew longer and longer, and a lot of our migrants now have stories of friends and relatives who gave up and tried other countries, or just went home poorer.

The other loser from the whole process has been the Australian education system. TAFEs have been starved of funds and forced to compete with a system of dodgy private colleges. More of our brightest Australians wasted time and money on these outfits while the TAFEs that could be the envy of the world withered.

Now we have a Labour government and there has been a review. The review has handed in its findings, and the ALP is going to make changes they hope will make business and unions happy.

For the employer groups, there’s the abolition of the labour-market testing requirement. Business has always hated having to prove that they’ve genuinely tried to find local candidates for positions. Instead, there will be “skills assessments,” hopefully proving that migrants have the skills the industry needs. For unions, there’s the prospect of higher pay thresholds, so that skilled migrant workers don’t undercut Australian workers the way bosses would like.

Albanese said of immigration that “the system that we inherited was broken.” This is true of a lot of things he inherited from the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Coalition governments, but it does not get him off the hook. We need an education system that is fully funded to develop Australian workers to do the jobs that suit them best. We need an immigration system that treats migrants as human beings, not just as a way to save money on wages or education.

The Communist Party of Australia has always supported properly training, and paying Australians wherever they come from rather than turning workers against each other for the bosses benefit. As an internationalist party, we strongly oppose the policy of just leaching workers from other countries. Five thousand New Zealand nurses have registered to practice in Australia since last August.

This country can afford to properly educate young Australians and treat migrants decently. We should reverse the Coalition cuts to education, fund the TAFEs, and pay our aged care workers properly. We can do all that and treat migrants as human beings, not as disposable assets.

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