Migration Program Consultations

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1 Migration Program Consultations Comments on issues raised during Canberra stakeholder meeting, 13 January February 2010 Contact: Kate Hurford Associate Director Public Policy International & National Policy Directorate Engineers Australia 11 National Circuit Barton ACT 2600 Tel: Fax:

2 1. Introduction Engineers Australia is the peak body for engineering practitioners in Australia, representing all disciplines and branches of engineering. Membership is almost 90,000 making Engineers Australia is the largest and most diverse professional engineering association in Australia. All Engineers Australia members are bound by a common commitment to promote engineering and to facilitate its practice for the common good. Engineers Australia is the national forum for the advancement of engineering and the professional development of its members. Engineers Australia believes that Australia requires sufficient engineers to meet the aspiration of its people; that practicing engineers should offer the highest levels of professional standards and should be committed to the ongoing development of their knowledge and professional expertise through whole of life learning and professional development. Migrants contribute to the economic development of Australia in many ways including: job creation; filling skill shortages; creation of business opportunities and business expansion; direct investment in the Australian economy; and they often bring new ideas, technologies and skills with them, which all help Australia develop a competitive edge. Migrants also facilitate access and dialogue between Australian enterprises and potential customers and partners in their countries of origin. Engineers Australia recognises the significant contribution made by migrant engineers to Australia s competitiveness and economic growth. Migrant engineers are a vital element in generating new ideas and approaches to engineering, and for providing skills where there are shortages. However, Engineers Australia believes that it is essential that the Australian Government do more to increase domestic graduations in engineering to lessen our dependence on foreign engineers. Background analysis on the importance of migration to the annual supply of new engineers is supplied as Appendix A. Issues relating to the skilled migration program including the structure of the points test and use of the Subclass 476 (Skilled Recognised Graduate) Visa are also discussed below. 2. Skills assessments and the points test The annual intake of migrant engineers now exceeds domestic output of graduate engineers in Australia. This gives rise to concerns about the balance of expertise and experience in the engineering profession as a whole. The issues that concern Engineers Australia relate to skills assessments and to the balance of experience in the engineering profession: Temporary 457 visas are not skills assessed. In , 55% of new engineers joining the profession were in this category, adding some 80% to the new domestic graduates entering the profession with accredited qualifications. Engineers Australia believes that this places disproportionate responsibility on sponsors to reassure the Australian public that temporary visa engineers practicing in Australia are qualified to Australian standards. The cyclical component comprised 1,839 permanent sponsored visas and 4,580 sponsored 457 visas in Therefore, only 28.6% of the cyclical component had their skills assessed to be satisfactory to Australian standards. Engineers Australia would prefer that all engineers practising in Australia undergo skills assessments to Australian standards. ENGINEERS AUSTRALIA 10 February 2010 Page 1

3 Engineers Australia appreciates that temporary visa holders who wish to apply for permanent visas are required to have their skills assessed and strongly supports this approach. However, Engineers Australia is concerned that being a minor part of the cyclical component may be seen as an argument for relaxation of the assessment requirement for permanent visas for the sake of consistency. Engineers Australia would strongly oppose such an argument as threatening the professional integrity of engineering in Australia. The skilled migration of engineers to Australia must be seen in the context of new domestic graduations from Australian educational institutions. In , independent permanent visas granted to engineers added 44% to the 5,780 new domestic graduate engineers. The full engineers migration program, 8,992, was 155% larger than new domestic graduate engineers. The demand for engineers over the next years will be driven by infrastructure renewal and development, the continuation of the commodities boom and climate change mitigation and adaptation. These demands need to be met with a spread of expertise and experience levels and by further developing the flexibility of the engineering profession. The operation of the General Skilled Migration (GSM) points test strongly favours younger inexperienced engineers with characteristics similar to new domestic graduates. Employers require new graduates but they also require a proportion of experienced engineers. Respondents to Engineers Australia skills shortage surveys indicate that the greatest recruitment difficulties are experienced at Engineer Grade 3. These are engineers typically in the year age group with years experience depending on whether they are in the private or public sector. Future demands will accentuate this need. Notionally the GSM points test provides for work experience but the approach used does not adequately address the loss of points for age with the result that candidates must rely on factors other than work experience. There is a significant imbalance between the way points reduce with age and additional points awarded for work experience. International research consistently shows that english language proficiency and work experience are key factors in successful labour market integration. As noted above, the present arrangements favour young age cohorts. Maximum age points are awarded to applicants under 30 years of age. This group accounts for 60.4% of qualifications assessed by Engineers Australia prior to submission of visa applications. Thereafter, points are reduced by 5 for each successive 5 years of age. The level of work experience identified by employers as their highest need is Engineer Grade 3 which has a mean age of about 37 years in the private sector and 42 years in the public sector. The relevant age groups experience point reductions of 10 and 15 respectively compared to relatively inexperienced engineers under 30 years. Additional points for work experience do not offset the sliding age scale. Engineers Australia believes that the points test should favour more experienced applicants over less experienced one and suggests that the work experience points scores be amended as follows: Skills assessment and between 3 and 5 years experience in nominated or closely related occupation 5 points. Skills assessment and between 6 and 10 years work experience in nominated or closely related occupation 10 points. ENGINEERS AUSTRALIA 10 February 2010 Page 2

4 Skills assessment and between 11 and 15 years work experience in nominated or closely related occupation 15 points. Skills assessment and over 16 years work experience in nominated or closely related occupation 20 points. 2. Subclass 476 (Skilled Recognised Graduate) Visa Engineers Australia frequently receives requests for assistance from people with engineering qualifications seeking to enter Australia under the subclass 476 (Skilled Recognised Graduate) Visa but who are prevented from doing so because their degree is from a university that is not included on the list of recognised overseas institutions. It appears that they contact us because they are advised to do so by officers of DIAC State and Territory Branches and overseas offices including the London Contact Centre, Migration Branch of the Australian High Commission. The advice offered is along the following lines To be eligible for this visa, the institution you are graduating from MUST be on the list of 'Recognised Institutions'. This list is occasionally reviewed at a government and industry level. Whilst there is no application for an institution to be added to this list, the government consults with a number of peak engineering and mining industry bodies to review the list. Engineers Australia is the appointed industry assessing authority that DIAC utilises, therefore they may be able to assist further with requests from universities wishing to be added to the Recognised Institutions List. Engineers Australia has been in ongoing correspondence with the Department requesting that the advice directing people to contact us is stopped, as it is not within our power to change the list. While we have had reassurances from DIAC that the advice has stopped, we continue to receive requests from foreign engineers, education institutions and others that additional overseas institutions be added to the list. When pressed for further information all indicate that they have been advised by DIAC that Engineers Australia is the body to contact to make this happen. When this list was first compiled, Engineers Australia was not consulted. Consultations took place with the Association of Consulting Engineers and the Minerals Council despite Engineers Australia being the assessment authority for the majority of engineering skills for general skilled migration. If we had been consulted, Engineers Australia would have strongly recommended that the list include all engineering institutions that have had their engineering programs accredited under the Washington and Sydney Accords. As a signatory to these accords, Engineers Australia recognises these engineering programs as substantially equivalent to Australian accredited engineering programs. The list of programs can be accessed through the following websites - Canada: - Hong Kong SAR: - Ireland: - Japan: - New Zealand: ENGINEERS AUSTRALIA 10 February 2010 Page 3

5 - Singapore: - South Africa: - South Korea: - Taiwan: - United Kingdom: - United States of America: The Washington and Sydney Accords are used in the assessment for skilled migration for engineers and for membership of Engineers Australia. Given that these engineering programs are considered to be substantially equivalent to Australian engineering programs, we believe that they should be included on the list of recognised institutions. For example, there are currently nine United Kingdom institutions on the list (Imperial College London, University of Leeds, University of Nottingham, University of Birmingham, University of Portsmouth, University of Southampton, University of Manchester, Camborne School of Mines (University of Exeter), and University of Bristol) while under the Washington and Sydney Accords, Engineers Australia and by default DIAC via the General Skilled Migration Program which requires a skills assessment from Engineers Australia, recognises all United Kingdom engineering programs as substantially equivalent to Australian engineering degrees. The inequity that some, but not all Washington and Sydney Accord accredited engineering programs are recognised on the 476 list should be rectified as a priority. It is extremely disappointing that the situation has been allowed to continue for so long. It also makes it increasingly difficult for Engineers Australia to seek the recognition of Australian engineering degrees in Washington Accord countries, while DIAC continues to promote a list which not compliant with the Accords while at the same time indicating to anyone who queries the listing that it has been recommended by Engineers Australia. Engineers Australia would appreciate feedback from DIAC as to how this situation could be rectified as a priority. 5. Conclusion Migrants contribute to the economic development of Australia in many ways. Engineers Australia recognises that the skilled migration program is essential to Australia s future competitiveness. However it is vital that skilled migration is used only where skills are not presently available to the required degree in the Australian labour market. Skilled migration should not become a replacement for a reliable, valued and appropriately remunerated Australian professional skill base, and cannot be seen as an alternative to educating and training a highly skilled Australian workforce. ENGINEERS AUSTRALIA 10 February 2010 Page 4

6 The Supply of New Engineers in Australia Appendix A This Appendix reviews statistics on the annual increase in the supply of Australian engineers. Despite the on-set of the global financial crisis, Australia continues to experience an acute shortage of engineers. The cause of this situation was the coincidence between static domestic graduations of engineers from Australian Universities and the increase in demand for engineers evident since the start of the millennium. The entry level qualification for professional engineers and engineering technologists is a Bachelors Degree in engineering and for engineering associates it is an Associate Degree or a Diploma or Advanced Diploma. Engineers Australia is the recognised assessment authority for prospective migration visa applications for these grades of engineer for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Comprehensive statistics for students graduating with associate engineer qualifications are problematic. For this reason the following discussion relates to degree qualified engineers for whom good statistics are available. Engineers Australia believes that the circumstances of associate engineers are in line with this discussion. Figure 1 shows the trends in new commencements and completions in Bachelors degrees in Engineering and Related Technologies in Australia since The trend in graduations, although subject to some annual variation, has been static for the past 15 years i. Engineering commencements were also static through the 1990s and then fell until 2005 when in response to broad based calls for action, the Australian Government created additional university places in engineering. The outcome was that commencements increased back to the levels of the late 1990s. In due course, the recovery in commencements will increase graduate numbers. Since 2001, the ratio of completions to commencements has averaged 56.9%. If this were to continue, graduations could increase from an average 5,870 between 2001 and 2007, to about 6,287, an increase of about 417, or 7% FIGURE 1: TRENDS IN COMMENCEMENTS AND COMPLETIONS FOR BACHELORS DEGREES IN ENGINEERING AND RELATED TECHNOLOGIES NUMBERS COMMENCEMENTS COMPLETIONS ENGINEERS AUSTRALIA 10 February 2010 Page 5

7 TABLE 1 IMMIGRATION OF ENGINEERS TO AUSTRALIA YEAR PERMANENT PERMANENT TOTAL TEMPORARY OVERALL OFF-SHORE ON-SHORE PERMANENT 457 VISA TOTAL Source: To Birrell, Sheridan and Rapson; since and 457 data Department of Immigration and Citizenship Any increase in domestic engineering graduates is welcomed by Engineers Australia, but the impact of the expected increase can be gauged from Table 1 which shows the immigration of degree qualified engineers to Australia since The numbers of new migrant engineers are compared to domestic graduates in Figure 2. The number of new migrant engineers has increased rapidly since By , there were 4,412 new permanent migrant engineers and 4,580 new temporary migrant engineers. Figure 2 also shows that the share of new domestic graduate engineers in the supply of new graduate engineers has been falling. By , domestic graduates were only 39.5% of new graduate engineers in Australia. As welcome as it is the likely increase in new domestic graduates will do little to change the increasing dependence on migrant engineers. FIGURE 2: DOMESTIC AND MIGRATION CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE ANNUAL SUPPLY OF ENGINEERS IN AUSTRALIA DOMESTIC GRADUATIONS LH axis MIGRANT ENGINEERS LH axis DOMESTIC SHARE RH axis NUMBERS % ENGINEERS AUSTRALIA 10 February 2010 Page 6

8 Since 2000 overseas students studying at Australian educational institutions have been able to apply for on-shore permanent migration visas. In engineering this has become an important source of permanent migrant engineers. Only new domestic Bachelors Degree graduates add to the size of the engineering profession. Domestic graduates from post-graduate courses represent improvements in the knowledge base of the profession. However, the situation for overseas students is different with graduates from Doctoral, Masters and Bachelors Degrees all eligible to apply for on-shore migration visas. The successful visa applicants from this pool all add to the size of the engineering profession irrespective of the course level studied. Figure 3 compares the trend in the pool of overseas engineering graduates eligible to apply for on-shore visas to the numbers of visas approved ii. The red line in Figure 3 shows the pool of overseas students graduating with Doctoral, Masters and Bachelors Degrees in engineering from Australian universities since 2001 (measured on the right hand axis) increased strongly to 4,955 in 2005 but that it has moderated in the last two years to a little over 4,500. The proportion of overseas students granted on-shore migration visas was measured by comparing visas granted to this pool of overseas student graduates. Simultaneously, the proportion of this pool of overseas graduates granted on-shore visas has increased rapidly so that by 2007, it was 47.2%. The effect of the on-shore visa mechanism has been to increase the numbers of new graduates from Australian engineering schools annually entering the engineering profession well above the static level of new domestic graduates FIGURE 3: THE PROPORTION OF OVERSEAS STUDENTS GRADUATING FROM ELIGIBLE ENGINEERING QUALIFICATIONS GRANTED ON-SHORE VISA PROPORTION GRANTED ON-SHORE VISAS LH axis POOL OF OVERSEAS ENGINEERING GRADUATES RH axis % NUMBERS ENGINEERS AUSTRALIA 10 February 2010 Page 7

9 The demand for engineers in some industries will have been dampened by the down turn in the economy, but in others it has been maintained or has increased. In export industries, high value projects have been maintained and new ones have started. With economic recovery this activity is expected to accelerate as projects like Gorgon commence. Infrastructure development has been an important focus for Governments at all levels since before the economic slump and is now central to the Federal Government s economic recovery strategy. These circumstances indicate that while there may be a short term lull in the excess demand for engineers in Australia, it has not gone away. Engineers Australia believes strong action to increase the numbers of engineers is necessary from both domestic sources and from skilled migration. ENGINEERS AUSTRALIA 10 February 2010 Page 8

10 i See Engineers Australia, The Engineering Profession; A Statistical Overview, Sixth Edition 2009, There is a discontinuity in the trends in 2000 due to a change in classification systems for education statistics. The discontinuity does not affect the conclusion about a static trend in graduations. ii Statistics on overseas student completions were obtained from DEEWR for calendar years and the migration statistics are financial years. The comparison was made between completions and migration for the year ending 30 June in that calendar year. Although this is not entirely satisfactory, it is sufficiently accurate to support the points being made in the Submission. ENGINEERS AUSTRALIA 10 February 2010 Page 9

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