Access to foreign workers for the mining industry is a small but critical component for the competitiveness of Australia’s resources sector. The current temporary skilled visa system creates delays and disincentives that undermine that competitiveness. As the Productivity Commission concluded in its assessment of the economic, social and environmental impact of migration, immigration brings net benefits across the Australian community, noting that:
O]ver the long term, selecting migrants with higher rates of workforce engagement and employment in skilled and high demand occupations is likely to deliver improved economic outcomes.1
As a discerning and strategic employer of skilled migrants, this finding strongly aligns with the experience of the Australian minerals industry. The MCA agrees that policy underpinning skilled migration should be evidence-based and informed by the appropriate mix and influence of economic, social and environmental factors.2 Accordingly the MCA considers that some parameters of the current temporary skilled visa system are not wholly effective in targeting genuine skills shortages, as they restrict the mining industry’s access to skilled employees and hinder its competitiveness.
As opportunities across the minerals industry continue to grow, an additional 900 mining engineers are expected to be employed domestically up to 2022, with an estimated demand for up to 5000. Additionally, the specialists skills associated with innovation and technology adoption will influence skill needs and shape demand across industry.
Given the current and projected pipeline of enrolments and graduates in mining engineering and related disciplines, access to skilled migrants is critical to respond to the immediate divide between supply and demand over the next 12 months. Delays in recruiting critical workers on temporary visas will not only impact overall competitiveness, it will also delay developments and the creation of permanent positions for Australians.
Therefore the MCA recommends:
- Dropping the arbitrary upper age limit of 45 years at time of application for permanency to ensure that industry is able to secure knowledge experts, senior managers and leaders (including chief executives) for key positions to aid Australia’s competitive advantage in the sector
- Removing the three years’ work experience requirement for international students graduating from Australian universities, to transition from a temporary graduate visa to industry – and securing the skills industry needs now
- Placing Mining Engineering on the Short-term Skilled Occupations List (STSOL) to address the immediate need across industry and provide a genuine pathway toward permanent residency for graduates
- Allocating funds from the Skilling Australians Fund proportionally to each industry’s use of the temporary skilled migration visas to support skilling and upskilling for that and ancillary industries, and address potential and perceived cross-subsidisation of other industry sectors
- Strengthening application of the Skill Shortage Research Methodology, including application of ANZSCO codes to the sixth integer, to address discrepancies that lead to false or inconsistent findings
- Abolishing labour market testing to remove the unnecessary and ineffective administrative requirement and recognise the well-established and historically consistent industry practice of seeking skilled migration as a last-resort means of obtaining critical but hard-to-fill skills.