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Go8 Submission to Australia’s 2024-2025 Permanent Migration Program

January 12, 2024

Permanent Migration Planning and Policy Section
Department of Home Affairs

The Group of Eight (Go8) is pleased to provide this submission to Australia’s 2024-25 Permanent Migration Program consultation. This submission represents the views of the Go8 network and member universities may choose to make their own submissions.

The Go8 consents for this submission to be published in full.

The Go8 represents Australia’s leading, research-intensive universities[1]. Collectively we:

  • Are consistently the highest-ranked Australian universities, with three of our members ranked in the top 30 in the world, six in the top 50 in the world and all within the top 100 universities in the world (according to the QS World University Rankings (QS)).[2]
  • Educate over 165,000 international students both on and offshore[3].
  • Support more than 73,000 jobs in Australia through our international students.
  • Generate $1 million in economic impact for every three Go8 international students.

This success reflects our extensive international connections, both within our region and around the globe, and the intersection with Australia’s Migration Policy.

The Australian Government Migration Strategy released in December 2023 has flagged moving from a 12-month planning horizon for the Permanent Migration Program to a longer-term approach. The Strategy also emphasises the need for permanent migration to be underpinned by clear pathways from temporary to permanent migration. In addressing the consultation questions in the current discussion paper, while focused on the 2024-2025 period, the Go8 also has this broader context in mind.

Primary consultation questions

Question 1: What is the ideal size and composition of the 2024−25 permanent Migration Program and why?

In formulating the optimal size and composition of the 2024-25 Permanent Migration Program and beyond, it is essential to consider Australia’s evolving workforce needs and workforce shortages in key skilled professions including ‘healthcare, social assistance, and professional, scientific and technical services’ as highlighted in the discussion paper.  

As the pace of technological advancement accelerates, Australia needs migration settings that supplement our existing expertise in areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, cyber technologies, quantum computing and advanced manufacturing, to ensure we can compete in an increasingly challenging and competitive economic and geopolitical environment.

Maintaining a supply of highly skilled talent through international engagement and migration is key to keeping our domestic industries at the forefront of innovation and the nation competitive. This is crucial for the success of government priorities which depend on access to expert research and skilled talent in areas of high global demand.

This is both through temporary and permanent migration and importantly the pathways from temporary to permanent migration which is a focus of the Migration Strategy.

The timely identification of skill gaps to meet industry demand, requires access to accurate data and industry and university insights. The Migration Strategy notes that Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) will be tasked with identifying Australia’s skill requirements and in defining a Core Skills Occupation List for the new Core Skills Pathway for temporary migration. Collaboration between JSA, industry and universities will be crucial to identify areas of need and formulate effective responses. For example, in the rapidly evolving technology sector, where advancements may outstrip domestic workforce capabilities, it is vital to identify needs and have the flexibility to implement targeted migration streams, supplemented by specialised doctoral or other degree programs, to ensure the availability of these essential skills.

More broadly, current workforce projections by JSA indicate that from 2021 to 2026, 90 per cent of new jobs will require post-school qualifications including 50 per cent of which require a bachelors degree or higher.[4] This trend is projected to continue in the decades to 2050.[5]

To meet this demand, international engagement and migration are critical to ensuring our domestic industries remain at the cutting edge.

Therefore, planning for the 2024-25 Permanent Migration Program, and subsequent years, must reflect the shift in the workforce towards highly skilled professionals. It should also incorporate a degree of flexibility in policies and processes to adapt in a targeted way to rapid changes in emerging fields or specific sectors. This approach will ensure that Australia’s migration strategy remains responsive and aligned with its long-term economic and social goals.

The Go8 will work with the Australian Government and JSA to continue to provide insights and recommendations to the development of the Core Skills Occupation List.

Question 2: How can migration policy settings better support social cohesion outcomes in Australia?

Since Australia reopened its borders post the COVID-19 pandemic, international students have returned to Australia at record levels, both continuing students returning to Australia and a new cohort of commencing students.

The increase in international student numbers has featured in media reports and public discourse over the past year, particularly in the lead-up to the release of the Migration Strategy. Some media reports tenuously linked international students to Australia’s challenges with rental availability and the cost-of-living crisis.

The Go8 was pleased to note that the Migration Strategy did not impose any caps on international student numbers and that it recognised that ‘International education is a new engine of economic growth for Australia and an important part of our social fabric’.[6]

In addition, a false narrative has developed that the majority of international students study in Australia with the intention of becoming citizens. The data does not support this and shows that while many students take advantage of post-study work rights, only around 16 per cent of international students remain long term.[7]

This statistic highlights that international graduates are a significant untapped resource upon on which Australia should seek to capitalise in a targeted way. These graduates are already onshore in Australia; have invested significant time and experience within their community and have skills and capabilities that have been verified to Australian standards. Retaining graduates also helps to ensure a workforce pipeline of talent for the future as graduates become more experienced, eventually moving through to mid and senior career levels and addressing workforce shortages in critical industries.

Australia’s perceptions of international students must be based on facts, rather than misinformation. The release of the Migration Strategy presents an opportunity to assess and address community concerns through information and education campaigns. This will ensure migrants are welcomed and valued. Failure to address these issues could lead to a loss of valuable skills and talent, adversely affecting Australia’s economic competitiveness and social cohesion.

Recommendation 1: That the Australian Government assess community sentiment towards migrants, including international students, and address any areas of concern through information and education campaigns.

Question 3: How can migration policy settings support Australia’s ongoing economic prosperity and fairness?

Responsive policy making is critical to maintaining and future-proofing Australia’s economic prosperity and sovereign capability. Attracting international talent helps to keep Australia connected to global technological developments needed for emerging jobs and industries and migration policies need to be adaptable and responsive to changing economic conditions and labour market needs. Whilst the Go8 acknowledges the recent Migration Strategy, it will be important to undertake regular reviews and adjustments based on economic data and demographic trends to ensure that migration continuously supports Australia’s economic goals.

Recommendation 2: That the Government ensure migration settings allow for responsive policy making and build in an element of flexibility to quickly adapt to emerging areas of need.

Global competition for talent is intense and Australia’s international competitors are rapidly positioning themselves as destinations of choice for highly skilled and talented individuals. 

 Connection to the global talent pool is fundamental to Australia remaining competitive in a global economy that is increasingly technology and knowledge driven. The UK and US have both introduced policy levers to fast track the recruitment of academic and research leaders in areas critical to economic growth. As the Go8 has previously advocated[8], introducing a targeted High Potential Individual (HPI) visa would assist Australian universities and industry employers in attracting and retaining world leading academics and researchers and facilitate the retention of PhD students in areas of greatest need.

The Go8 notes the recent Migration Strategy outlined consideration of the introduction of a new Talent and Innovation visa as part of the Global Talent program to drive growth in sectors of national importance and believes this could be one way in which to implement an HPI visa. The Go8 will work with Government to shape this vital visa category.

Recommendation 3: That the Government introduce the new Talent and Innovation visa as foreshadowed in the Migration Strategy

As noted above, the most recent data shows only around 16 percent of international students remain in-country in the long term. This is an untapped pool of talent literally on our doorstep. International students have already chosen Australia over alternative study destinations; they have spent time in-country acquiring local knowledge and cultural competency; and they are trained to Australian standards by Australian universities. The Government should commission research to understand the barriers that prevent more international graduates remaining, so that these can be assessed and addressed based on robust evidence.

Recommendation 4: That the Government commission research to properly understand the barriers that prevent more international graduates remaining in Australia long-term, so that these can be assessed and addressed based on robust evidence.

The Go8 notes the introduction of the new Skills in Demand Visa as part of the Migration Strategy allowing Temporary Graduate Visa holders in a skilled job to transition to this new visa with seven‑day processing times and greater mobility between employers. Providing a rapid, fast-track visa pathway for skilled graduates in areas of priority sends a clear message that Australia values and needs high achieving individuals and facilitates their rapid entry into the workforce.  The Go8 recommends that this new visa be monitored to ascertain its effectiveness in retaining more international graduates long‑term.

Recommendation 5: That the Government monitors the introduction of the new Skills in Demand Visa as part of the Migration Strategy to ensure it is effective in keeping more international graduates in the country longer-term.

The influence of extended visa processing times on the decisions of potential migrants is significant and should not be underestimated, particularly when processing times exceed those of our key competitors. The Go8 acknowledges the new Migration Strategy’s recognition of this issue as a critical area for improvement, including the introduction of processing targets. Successful implementation of these targets will send a strong message to potential migrants that Australia is welcoming and open.

However, it’s vital to ensure that during the transition to the new Migration Strategy, current visa applications are not negatively impacted. Any adverse effects during this period could have long-lasting repercussions, especially when countries like the US, UK and Canada are actively seeking to attract highly skilled migrants.

While Australia offers an appealing and secure lifestyle, making it an attractive destination for living and working, we must be realistic about our competitive position. As a mid-sized economy with limited domestic opportunities in large-scale R&D sectors, we cannot always compete with the salaries and incentives offered in countries like the US or China. Placing unnecessary and avoidable obstacles, such as prolonged visa processes, is a disadvantage to attracting talent. The Go8 recognises that addressing visa processing times is a key focus of the Migration Strategy, however this alone is not sufficient in the current, highly competitive global environment. Therefore, the Go8 urges the Government to explore new methods to incentivise and facilitate migration in areas of critical need.

Recommendation 6: Ensure that the Government closely tracks visa processing times during the shift to the new Migration Strategy, to guarantee a seamless transition without any backlog accumulation.

Finally, the Go8 addresses one specific issue that arises from the Migration Strategy in lowering the age limit for eligibility for the Temporary Graduate Visa (485) from 50 to 35 years. This is of concern particularly for the international PhD student cohort. This policy change has the potential to have adverse flow on effects for Australia’s permanent migration program, and the attractiveness of Australia to potential PhD students. Key concerns include:

  • Impact on the pipeline of Australia’s high-end research and innovation workforce: PhD students are integral to Australia’s research and innovation sectors. Go8 universities are responsible for about half of Australia’s PhD completions.
  • Work and Residency Opportunities: PhD students accounted for 2% of higher education commencements in 2022 according to Department of Education statistics. While this is a small fraction of all students, it is a critical cohort of future research leaders and innovators for the nation. This cohort is highly dependent on international talent with approximately half of the cohort comprising international students. With the extensive training and experience required to qualify to undertake a PhD many commencing PhD students are already past the age of 30, including 46 per cent of domestic students and 40 per cent of international students. Given the standard scheduled length of three and a half to four years for a PhD in Australia, many international PhD graduates from Australia will not qualify for the TGV under the new age limit.

Exempting PhD students, and potentially Higher Degree by Research students more broadly, from this change, i.e. leaving the age eligibility criterion at 50 for the Temporary Graduate Visa (485), would have a small impact on Australia’s migration system in terms of overall numbers but would importantly protect the future of Australia’s research and innovation leadership pipeline.

Recommendation 7: That the age eligibility for international PhD graduates to apply for a Temporary Graduate Visa (485) remain at a maximum of 50 years.

[1] Go8 Facts of Distinction, 2023 https://go8.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Go8-Facts-of-Distinction_web.pdf
[2]QS World University Rankings, 2024 https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2024
[3] Department of Education, Higher Education Statistics – 2022 Student Data
[4] National Skills Commission. (2021). Employment outlook: Industry and occupation trends over the five years to November 2026.
[5] See Higher Education Qualification Demand – a report produced for the Department of Education by Oxford Economics Australia.
[6] Australian Government, Migration Strategy, 2023 https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/programs-subsite/migration-strategy/Documents/migration-strategy.pdf
[7] The Treasury, Shaping a Nation, 2018 https://research.treasury.gov.au/sites/research.treasury.gov.au/files/2019-08/Shaping-a-Nation-1.pdf
[8] See, for instance, Go8, Essential decisions for national success, 2022, https://go8.edu.au/report-supporting-australias-international-education-and-research-sector