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Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore Reduce Reliance on Foreign Labor

Three governments follow the trend of making the world's labor less mobile

While the prospect of Brexit and the Trump administration’s approach to immigration policy are seen by some as the main challenges to global labor mobility in the coming years, the US and UK aren’t the only countries trying to reduce their reliance on foreign employees.

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull abruptly announced recently that his government was doing away with the 457 skilled worker visa (the Australian analogue to the US’s H-1B), and replacing it with a more restrictive program that limits the number of eligible occupations and raises the threshold to qualify.

The Guardian reported him as saying, “Australians must have priority for Australian jobs – so we’re abolishing the [class] 457 visas, the visas that bring temporary foreign workers into our country.

“We’ll no longer let 457 visas be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians. It’s important that businesses still get access to the skills they need to grow and invest. So the 457 visa will be replaced by a new temporary visa specifically designed to recruit the best and the brightest in the national interest.”

The number of 457 visa holders currently stands at 95,758, The Guardian points out, with nationals of India and the UK together making up over 40% of them. The guest workers are predominantly employed in IT, professional services, and various science and technology jobs. Human Capital delves into the details of the new scheme: “As of 19 April 2017, the occupations list used for skilled migration visas (including the subclass 457 visa) will be significantly reduced.

“From a subclass 457 perspective, 216 occupations have been removed from the Consolidated Skilled Occupation List (now the Short Term Skilled Occupation List). A list of removed occupations is outlined here. Moreover, caveats have been added to 59 other occupations, such as accountants, bakers, cooks, management roles, technical sales reps and customer service managers.”

The piece goes on to point out that the “temporary skill shortage” (TSS) visa program is made up of a short-stream of up to two years and a medium-term stream of up to four years.

New Zealand, New Visa Program

Some of Australia’s nearest neighbors are also looking to tighten immigration controls. New Zealand’s government is preparing to impose new controls on immigration, after net migration reached a record high of 71,000 last year, Stuff reports — though it is not yet certain what those new measures will entail. Human Capital reports that New Zealand is looking at changes to skilled worker visas similar to those being pursued in Australia: “Under the proposed rules, low-skilled migrants will only be able to stay in New Zealand for a maximum of three years – after that, they would need to go through a “stand-down period” before being eligible for another work visa.

“Remuneration thresholds are also on the cards as anyone who earns less than $49,000 will no longer be classified as highly-skilled, regardless of whether their job may have been classified that way previously. A second threshold will be set at $73,000 – one and a half times the median income – and anyone who earns more than that amount will automatically be classified as highly skilled.”

And Singapore

Singapore, where nonresidents make up some 40% of the workforce, is taking steps to reduce its reliance on immigrant workers and create more job opportunities for citizens by ensuring that local firms have a “Singapore core,” Quartz reported last week.

The piece went on to point that, “Work-permit processes have tightened a lot since Singapore adopted the Fair Consideration Framework, a slew of rules in place since October 2015 to make sure employers really are considering Singaporeans for vacancies. It requires, among other things, that an employer with over 25 employees advertise a vacancy for two weeks before applying for an employment pass for an international worker to fill that role.”

Singapore, which INSEAD’s latest Global Talent Competitiveness Index recently ranked first in Asia and second in the world, may be better positioned than some countries to grow its domestic workforce as its scales down its dependence on foreign labor, Bloomberg reports: “The index assesses a country’s ability to enable, attract, grow and retain talent, as well as develop global knowledge and vocational and technical skills. High-ranking countries share some key advantages: employment policies that favor flexibility, good education systems and technological competence.

“Singapore’s government is seeking to build the economy into a regional high-tech hub. It’s helping small businesses adopt new technologies and supporting workers in getting re-skilled. With immigration curbs in place, the city state is pushing for automation of some low-skilled jobs, such as cleaners.

Australia ranked sixth worldwide on the global index, a considerable improvement from 2015/16, when it came in 13th. It remains to be seen, however, what impact the steps these countries are taking to curb immigration will have on their competitiveness in the global talent market.


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    This post was originally published on CEB Talent Daily, a provider of daily news and analysis on the world of talent management.

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