Permanent Migration Planning and Policy Section
Department of Home Affairs
The Group of Eight (Go8), representing Australia’s leading research-intensive universities, seven of which are ranked in the world’s top 100 by all three of the major international ranking systems, is pleased to provide this response to Australia’s 2023-24 Permanent Migration Program inquiry. This submission represents the views of the Go8 Directorate and member universities may choose to offer their own contributions.
Please note we are happy for this submission to be published in full.
As noted in the accompanying discussion paper, Australia is facing significant skill and capability challenges that are complicating our ability to rebuild and reposition for the post-pandemic era. The Go8 therefore agrees it is timely to review our national approach to permanent migration and identify opportunities for international engagement to help us remain competitive in a rapidly changing global context.
As we have noted elsewhere, even prior to the pandemic Australia demonstrated a strong reliance on international talent in key areas.
Department of Education data show that 65 per cent of higher education students in Information Technology in 2019 were internationals, as were 46 per cent of students in Engineering and Related Technologies. At the more advanced levels, internationals accounted for 61 per cent of Higher Degree Research students in Engineering and Related Technologies, and 57 per cent of Higher Degree Research students in Information Technology.
Looking ahead, existing workforce shortages in key areas are only likely to be exacerbated as demand for particular skills and knowledge grows:
Forecasts of jobs growth for university-qualified roles exceed the forecast growth of additional university places by a factor of 8:1 by 2026
This illustrates the sheer size of the challenge. Not only will Australia need to address existing workforce shortages but we must also grow the size of the quality pool in order to meet future demand. As an additional complication, we will need to do this in the context of a global economy in which competition for this talent will be fierce; in which specialist expertise in areas such as cyber security and artificial intelligence will become part of daily practice in many industries, pushing demand up even further; and against a backdrop of global economic uncertainty.
The discussion paper is right to note that, while this necessitates maximising opportunities for our domestic population to upskill and engage in meaningful work, the size of the challenge makes it unrealistic to expect domestic capacity to be sufficient to meet our needs.
Engagement with the international talent pool – both to address workforce needs and remain connected to developments and advancements made offshore – will be critical to Australia remaining competitive.
The Go8 supports the recognition within the discussion paper that “strong interactions between migration and the training and education of Australians are needed to ensure we retain key sovereign capabilities within our own borders”.
Programs designed to encourage an influx of academic and research talent into Australia that is then able to boost training capacity within our higher education sector – such as that outlined below in relation to AUKUS – could therefore have the dual effect of both providing immediate incoming skills and ensuring that these are passed on through our education system.
Below, we set out a number of initiatives that could help to address these challenges. In doing so, we will focus primarily on the second question for consideration:
2. How can we improve our migration planning process so Australia remains attractive to prospective migrants against the backdrop of widespread workforce shortages and aging populations across migrant-receiving countries?
The discussion paper notes that Australia’s “attractiveness cannot be taken for granted when the international competition for talent continues to intensify due to major migrant receiving countries facing similar population and labour force challenges”.
Talent seeks out opportunity, and opportunity attracts talent.
To remain competitive within a heightened global context, Australia needs to clearly articulate a multi-faceted value proposition that encompasses lifestyle and career opportunities, with streamlined application processes in areas of greatest need. This includes immediate workforce needs but also areas that will build our sovereign capability. While the Go8 acknowledges and accepts that certain visa processes must occur, excessive delays or timeframes that are not internationally competitive can cause immense frustration in applicants and counteracts efforts and resources expended by Government and private industry to attract people to apply in the first place.
Visa backlogs are not just about the number of applicants in the queue, but about the critical expertise that Australia is missing out on, or stands to lose, because of avoidable processing delays.
The Go8 makes the following recommendations I to help attract high achieving talent to migrate to Australia:
- Introduction of a High Potential Individual (HPI) Visa
The Department of Education data outlined above lays bare Australia’s reliance on international students in critical areas such as Information Technology and Engineering. Go8 discussions with industry leaders in both areas have also made clear their ongoing desire to continue to attract international talent even in the face of increased domestic supply. This is because international talent helps to keep Australia connected to global technological developments needed for emerging jobs and industries.
As the Go8 has outlined elsewhere, introducing a targeted High Potential Individual (HPI) visa would assist Australian universities and employers in attracting and retaining world leading academics and researchers and facilitate the retention of PhD students in areas of greatest need.
International students have already preferenced Australia over alternative study destinations; they have spent time in country acquiring local knowledge and cultural competency; and they are trained to Australian standards through Australian university courses. Yet a 2018 Federal Treasury paper found that only around 16 per cent of international students remain in-country in the long term.
The Go8 acknowledges the extension to post study work rights for graduates in areas of verified skills need already announced by the Minister for Education, the Hon Jason Clare MP, and Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Clare O’Neil MP. This will provide international graduates with more options to contribute to Australia’s economy and society. The Government should also commission research to properly understand the barriers that prevent more international graduates remaining, so that these can be assessed and addressed on an evidence-basis.
Providing a rapid, fast-track visa pathway for both established researchers and academics and outstanding PhD graduates in areas of priority need sends a clear message that Australia values and needs high achieving individuals, and facilitates their rapid entry into the workforce. The Go8 would welcome the opportunity to liaise with the Department to determine an appropriate set of criteria around such a visa that meets national priority needs.
- Leveraging Connections with Key Strategic Partners
As outlined in our submission to the Defence Strategic Review, strategic partnerships such as AUKUS provide opportunities to support and facilitate mobility and migration in areas of specialist need.
The Go8 has deep and longstanding partnerships with our counterpart organisations in these countries – the Russell Group in the UK and Association of American Universities in the US.
This provides opportunities to develop joint programs at postgraduate or research level in priority areas, producing successful graduates who could then access fast tracked priority migration pathways to help them settle in Australia (such as through a HPI visa) and contribute to the ongoing success of these projects.
This process could be facilitated by also including suitably qualified academic and research professionals able to help ensure Australia remains at the cutting edge of knowledge in these areas. Once a critical mass has been established, this could incentivize other high-quality professionals in these areas to pursue careers in Australia, rather than the US and UK.
If successful, similar programs could be developed or adapted to suit Australia’s other strategic partnerships, such as with the QUAD or ASEAN nations.
- Streamlining Visa Processes
The Go8 notes the following comment in the discussion paper:
While there may be opportunities to enhance Australia’s attractiveness through changes to visa settings and processes, other factors such as salaries, labour market and employment conditions, tax rates, housing, health services, education, the environment, childcare and social cohesion are likely to play a more important role.
While the Go8 does not dispute that many factors contribute to prospective migrants’ decision making, we also urge the Department not to underestimate the impact of excessive visa wait times, especially if they are out of step with our major competitors.
Australia is an attractive place to live and work but we also need to be realistic about our relative value proposition. As a middle-sized economy with limited onshore opportunities to engage in large R&D-active industries, we are unlikely to be able to match the salary packages accessible in the US or China.
Instead, Australia offers an attractive, safe and prosperous lifestyle which offers different kinds of opportunities, but placing additional – and avoidable – barriers in the way may tip the balance against our favour. The Go8 is aware that the Department is currently working to address pandemic related processing backlogs, but this alone may not be sufficient in our current and increasingly competitive circumstances. The Go8 urges the Department to consider ways to improve and streamline assessment processes to facilitate migration in areas of priority need.
- That the Department consider introducing a High Potential Individual (HPI) visa to attract and retain world leading researchers and PhD graduates in areas of priority need.
- That the Department work with the Go8 to leverage priority partnerships such as AUKUS to support and facilitate mobility and permanent migration in areas of strategic need.
- The Go8 urges the Department to consider ways to improve and streamline visa assessment processes to facilitate migration in areas of priority or strategic need.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide this submission. The Go8 welcomes the opportunity to further explore these issues with you, given the extent of our international engagements and expertise.
 QS World University Rankings 2023; Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023; and the Academic Ranking of World Universities 2022
 Department of Education, Higher Education Statistics Collection, 2019 year.
 Australia’s 2023-24 Permanent Migration Program, https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/how-to-engage-us-subsite/files/2023-24-permanent-migration-program.pdf
 https://go8.edu.au/go8-submission-to-employment-white-paper; https://go8.edu.au/report-supporting-australias-international-education-and-research-sector
 https://research.treasury.gov.au/sites/research.treasury.gov.au/files/2019-08/Shaping-a-Nation-1.pdf, p21