Migrants add to skills crisis: study
Harriet Alexander Higher Education Reporter
April 29, 2008
LESS than a third of people from non-English speaking countries who migrate to Australia on skilled workers' visas are gaining work in their fields and many of them are adding to the skills crisis they were brought in to solve, a study has found.
Those who graduated from Australian universities and were assessed as competent by local accrediting authorities were the least likely to find employment relevant to their qualifications, according to the report, "How are skilled migrants doing?", published in today's People And Place.
The authors, Monash University demographers Bob Birrell and Ernest Healy, have called for a freeze on skilled migration while the Government focuses on helping to bring the present crop of migrants up to the standard demanded by professions, in which they are qualified, through bridging courses.
"They're not contributing to the skilled workforce but they're contributing to urban population growth and housing pressure," Professor Birrell said.
Nearly 213,000 people moved to Australia as skilled migrants between 2001 and 2006, almost three-quarters of whom came from non-English speaking countries.
But while the majority of those who migrated from English-speaking countries gained employment in professional or managerial positions, only 29.3 per cent of those from non-English speaking countries did.
Among 20- to 29-year-olds from non-English speaking countries, most of whom were former international students in Australian universities, the figure was just 22 per cent.
Those who had degrees in information technology, engineering, education and accounting were more likely to be working in administration or sales.
The report said anecdotal evidence suggested employers regarded accountants from non-English backgrounds as technically capable but there was concern with their lack of English communication skills.
Accounting attracts the largest group of migrants, but only 25 per cent of 20- to 29-year-olds and 43 per cent of 30 to 64-year-olds from non-English backgrounds found employment in the field, compared to 80 per cent of migrants from mainly English-speaking countries.
Professor Birrell said it was also possible that older migrants had a greater interest in finding employment in their fields because they had families and more invested in their qualifications, whereas younger migrants were more interested in gaining permanent residency.
This was demonstrated by the surge of international students from information technology degrees to accounting courses when the Government changed its skilled migration priorities and made it easier for accountants, rather than computer graduates, to gain permanent residency.
But an accounting lecturer at Deakin University's business school, Tony Burch, said international students were also ill-prepared for the learning environment, which emphasised analysis and debate rather than memorising lecture notes.
His experience, also documented in today's People And Place, was that, compared with five years ago, students were less concerned with what they had to learn than with what they had to remember, failure rates had increased and more students were falling ill on examination days.
The Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, said the report's data predated changes to government policy, which included work experience for former international students and an increased number of employer-sponsored visas.