Immigration is crucial to Australia's wellbeing but impact needs more research
There needs to be more research into the labour market implications of the work rights of international students, graduates and working holiday makers in Australia as they are currently poorly understood, according to a detailed report.
The Productivity Commission has recommended a public inquiry to identify the labour market effects of temporary immigrants and administrative changes to allow for the use of matched tax and visa data to inform policy.
The details of the Commission's recent inquiry report into the migrant intake in Australia points out that as of September 2015 there were around 426,000 student and 26,000 temporary graduate visa holders and the pool of international students with work rights was supplemented by around 144,000 working holiday makers.
Student visa holders have a right to work up to 40 hours in any two week period while their course is ongoing and those on a temporary graduate visa, depending on their qualification, can work for between 18 months and four years after graduation, the report points out.
It also points out that the main objective of the working holiday visa programme is to encourage cultural exchange and closer ties between Australia and eligible countries, but in recent years it has been extended to jobs in regional areas.
The report also looks at 457 visas and says there were 190,000 temporary 457 visa holders which has come under criticism for making it too easy for employers to give jobs to overseas workers.
It explains that overall well-targeted temporary immigration programmes can be an effective response to labour market shortages and the 457 programme can play an important role in allowing businesses to source skilled labour in peak labour demand periods and access a global pool of specialised labour that may not be available domestically.
But in recent times, the programme has been used extensively to fill skill needs in fields such as medicine and nursing, and mining. The CSOL, the relevant list for 457 visas, currently includes 651 occupations that require a bachelor degree or higher qualification through to those that are commensurate with a certificate level III or IV.
'The CSOL is merely a list of skilled occupations. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a list of occupations in temporary short supply. The lack of transparency around the compilation of the list creates scope for vested interests to unduly influence its composition,' the report suggests.
It also explains that international students and working holiday makers are inherently more susceptible to exploitation than other workers as they are likely to be young, face language barriers, be less aware of their work rights, and frequently be seeking a permanent visa.
'Moreover, as they mostly work in low to semi-skilled jobs, for which labour is generally not in short supply, they have less ability to resist the coercive behaviour of unscrupulous employers. They are also less likely to have access to social or economic support networks able to counter any market power of their employers or to assist them in moving to alternative jobs,' the report says.
'Apart from the adverse impacts on the individuals involved, there is a risk that exploitation of temporary migrant workers by some employers could taint the appeal of these temporary programmes. More resources to identify and act against threats to the integrity of these visa programmes, reduce the information asymmetry between temporary workers and their employers, and increase access to complaint mechanisms would help to manage these risks,' it added.
The report concludes that immigration policy has enduring effects on many dimensions of Australian life and getting the policy settings right is critical to maximising community well being.
'The current immigration system has generally served the interests of the broader community well. The key question is whether current policy settings are set to deliver the best outcomes for the Australian community over the longer term,' it adds.