The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted economies across the globe, caused industries to lay off people by the millions, and pushed businesses to the verge of bankruptcy. Many non-essential services were forced to close, with some industries being hit harder than others. In Australia, to date over a million people have been rendered unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.
To cope with this, the Australian Government is facing increasing pressure to reduce Australia’s migration intake, so that Australian citizens and permanent residents will get precedence over immigrants in the workforce. This might require a drastic rethink of Australia’s migration system.
Just before the outbreak of the pandemic in January 2020, Australia had the second largest number of temporary workers in the OECD, which was around two and half million.
WHO IS A TEMPORARY MIGRANT?
A temporary migrant is someone who has the right to work on their visa, but not the right to stay indefinitely in Australia. There are a range of different visas that they can use to enter Australia. To illustrate, visas are available for a tourist to stay for 3 to 12 months, and a skilled worker to stay for up to four years.
Out of the two and a half million temporary workers, a majority are New Zealand citizens, tourists and international students.
Now, as the economy slowly starts to open up again, senior figures in the Labor party are calling to redefine Australia’s migration system. In fact, this has been a subject of political debate for a while now.
Before last year’s federal election Prime Minister Scott Morrison had capped the number of permanent migrants at 160,000 per year, but at that time he left temporary migration uncapped. It was felt that temporary migrants help to fill skill shortages in the economy, and help to plug gaps in major projects.
Not only in highly specialised areas like IT and cybersecurity, areas such as aged care, farm work and so on can often only fill their positions only through migrant workers. Without the contributions of migrants which is important to Australia’s economy, Australia would have been in recession last year.
Statistics show that after coal, iron ore and natural gas, education is Australia’s fourth biggest export. Overseas students play a huge part in the economy, with the taxes they pay help offsetting healthcare, education and welfare for the economy.
It must be acknowledged that temporary migrants have a net benefit to Australia. Australia’s population is ageing, and for every retiree, there are only about 5 working Australians. This means that by the middle of the century, at this rate there will only be about 2.5 for each retiree.
It remains to be seen whether COVID-19 will halt Australia’s progress as one of the fasting growing countries in the OECD. It has been predicted that migration will fall by around 80 per cent next year. We are still unclear as to when borders will open and what Australia’s migration programme will look like. As the situation across the globe continues to evolve, all we can do is to hope for the best!