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Australia’s migration system is failing businesses and skilled migrants

By Nick Wilson | |6 minute read

Skilled migration is a crucial part of Australia’s response to the ongoing skills shortage. Getting it right will require a rethink from government and businesses alike.

The new role of migration

In 2021, the federal joint standing committee on migration published the results of its inquiry into Australia’s skilled migration pathways. In that report, commentators considered the changing nature and purpose of migration to the country.


Where, in the post-war period, migration was all about national security and unskilled labour. Now, the focus is on skilled migration as a method to alleviate the pressures of the ongoing skills shortage. The report considered calls for more skilled migration from industry groups across the board – from agriculture and hospitality to aged care and education.

Skilled migrants play an invaluable role in the Australian workforce. They have very high participation rates and are considered “the most entrepreneurial, innovative, and risk-taking individuals in Australia”.

Government rethink

Despite the obvious benefits of, and appetites for skilled migration, many believe the government’s current approach to migration is falling short. It was this idea that underpinned the recent expert Review of the Migration System report, which was provided to the federal government in March of this year.

In essence, the review trumpeted previous opinions that skilled migration was of inestimable value to Australian businesses and that the current approach is inadequate.

“Migration has been essential to helping Australia become one of the safest, most prosperous countries in the world. As we look ahead, our country faces challenge and uncertainty,” said the federal government.

“Australia’s population is ageing. Productivity growth is declining. Our geostrategic environment is difficult. Our migration system could be a powerful force to help us manage these challenges. But not in its current state.”

The changes recommended by the reviewers were systemic and large-scale. What they called for was an entirely new migration strategy: “After a decade of ad hoc and piecemeal changes, we must embark on the biggest transformation of our migration system in a generation.”

“A new system will drive Australia’s economic prosperity and security and be better targeted, more efficient and focused on delivering the outcomes we need for Australians and our country.”

Recruitment rethink

The current approach is failing on more counts than one. Not only will businesses stand to gain from effective reform, but so too could skilled migrants themselves.

Dr June Tran, lecturer in business at RMIT University, recently authored an article titled: “Diversity Climate: Discrimination Against Skilled Migrants in Recruitment,” published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources.

At its core, the article claimed that while racial discrimination in Australian recruiting is subtler than in many comparable countries, skilled migrants are consistently being held back by discriminatory hiring practices when it comes to consideration of previous experience.

“Many skilled migrants face barriers to gaining employment, even with an approved visa, residency in Australia, and rich overseas work experience to fill the advertised role,” said Dr Tran.

“It then begs the question: Are Australia’s recruitment practices discriminatory?”

The article found that skilled migrants are ending up in positions beneath their skill level due to barriers in the application process, such as:

  • Recruiters setting unfair requirements for local work experience.
  • Recruiters only recognising local certificates or qualifications.
  • Applicants not understanding the application requirements in Australia (such as cover letters and addressing key selection criteria).
  • Bias towards applicants from Western countries with less experience over people from Asian non-English-speaking countries.

Clearly, businesses stand to gain from overcoming these barriers and tapping into the often more qualified pool of candidates to be found in skilled migrants. Not to mention, a more diverse workforce has been consistently proven to benefit businesses’ performance.

“These barriers to employment impact everyone as the jobs we so desperately need to fill aren’t being filled, and instead, we have an army of overqualified delivery and taxi drivers,” said Dr Tran.

“Government, industry, and HR need to communicate about fairer recruitment practices for skilled migrants.”



According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, discrimination occurs when one individual or group of people is regarded less favourably than another because of their origins or certain personality traits. When a regulation or policy is unfairly applied to everyone yet disadvantages some persons due to a shared personal trait, that is also discrimination.


The practice of actively seeking, locating, and employing people for a certain position or career in a corporation is known as recruitment.

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson is a journalist with HR Leader. With a background in environmental law and communications consultancy, Nick has a passion for language and fact-driven storytelling.