The Australian government has said it intends to continue to encourage immigration of doctors, nurses and engineers even while cracking down on those seeking permanent residency through low-value education courses.
Releasing the new Skilled Occupation List (SOL), the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, hoped the list, developed by the independent body Skills Australia, would ensure Australia's skilled migration program is demand-driven rather than supply-driven. The list contains 181 highly valued occupations.
"We intend to fundamentally change the way we target skilled migrants to restore integrity to the skilled migration program.
"Through a targeted migration program, the Rudd Government will attract skilled migrants of the highest calibre and deliver people with real skills to meet real need in our economy," Sen. Evans said.
The new SOL is a critical reform in the Government's overhaul of the skilled migration program and closes the door on those seeking to manipulate the migration system.
Only people with relevant qualifications in occupations listed on the SOL will be eligible for independent general skilled migration, the minister stressed.
Under the Howard government people who completed short courses in vocations such as cooking and hairdressing and had low English skills were almost assured of gaining permanent residence as a skilled migrant.
In 2007-08, of the 41 000 general skilled visas granted, more than 5 000 went to cooks and hairdressers; three quarters of them had formerly studied in Australia. These two occupations have been removed from the new SOL.
The Minister said he would recommend to the Governor-General in-Council amendments to the Migrations Regulations 1994
to give effect to this new framework.
The new SOL is proposed to come into effect on 1 July 2010 to replace the old list which contained more than 400 occupations. It will be updated annually.
Senator Evans said Skills Australia received advice from industry skills councils, industry peak bodies and Professions Australia to ensure the SOL contained occupations Australia needs in the medium to long term.
"The initiative builds on the reforms announced in February," Senator Evans said.
"The Government has increased English language requirements for trade applicants and introduced a new job ready program for onshore trade applicants.
"There is now increased priority for employer sponsored migrants and this will ensure industry is able to quickly access the skilled workers it needs."
During the past 18 months, the Government has driven a reform agenda, aimed at shifting the supply-driven skilled migration system we inherited to a demand-driven one, the minister's statement claimed.
"First and foremost, young Australians should be trained and given the opportunity to fill existing job vacancies. The Government has a national plan to ensure young people are skilled in the occupations where there is the greatest need.
"But there are some occupations where there will continue to be a high demand for skills and we welcome highly trained people to Australia to fill these vacancies.
"Hospitals can't go without nurses, country towns can't do without a local GP and the resources sector increasingly needs skills." The minister noted.
There is currently a shortage of doctors and nurses in Australia, particularly in regional areas.
General practitioners or specialists can apply for a visa to work in Australia if they have obtained their primary medical qualification in a country other than Australia or gained their medical qualifications in Australia and are not an Australian permanent resident.
Nurses are currently in high demand in Australia with opportunities for permanent and temporary work available.
Doctors can apply for either a temporary or permanent visa. For immigration purposes, doctors seeking permanent residency in Australia must hold full medical registration.
Whether you have a high level of skills and experience or need to gain additional skills, there is a visa to suit you. There are excellent career opportunities with permanent and temporary work available in Australia. You can be in or outside Australia when you apply for a visa to work as a nurse, says the Immigration Department.
Senator Evans also said, "The Rudd Government continues to value the very important contribution made by the international education sector and education providers that deliver high-quality courses to both Australian and overseas students will continue to prosper.
"International students who have the skills our economy needs will still be able to apply for permanent migration or be nominated by employers but we will no longer accept the thousands of cooks and hairdressers who applied under the guidelines established by the Howard government."
Chairman of the Government's National Resources Sector Employment Taskforce, Parliamentary Secretary for Western and Northern Australia Gary Gray, welcomed the new SOL and said it would address the needs of the resources sector.
'The taskforce has met with resource sector employers across the country and the clear message is that we need a targeted approach to migration,' Mr Gray said.
The government recognises the proposed changes would affect some overseas students currently in Australia intending to apply for permanent residence. The introduction of the new SOL does not change the concessions announced in February which provide generous transition arrangements for former and current international students seeking a visa under the General Skilled Migration (GSM) program.
People who have already applied for a GSM visa would not be affected by the implementation of the new SOL.
The changes would in no way affect international students coming to Australia to gain a qualification and then return home, the minister's statement declared.