Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore Look to Reduce Reliance on Foreign Talent

Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore Look to Reduce Reliance on Foreign Talent

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 imported talent. On Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull abruptly announced 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 reports:

“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,” he said. “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.”

Turnbull said the new visa would “better target genuine skills shortages” and would include new requirements such as previous work experience, better English-language proficiency and labour market testing. He said the government would establish “a new training fund” for Australians to fill skills gaps.

The number of 457 visa holders currently stands at 95,758, the Guardian adds, with nationals of India and the UK together making up over 40 percent 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 new TSS visa programme will be comprised of a Short-Term stream of up to two years and a Medium-Term stream of up to four years.

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.

If adopted, the changes will also mean partners and children will no longer be allowed automatic entry with work and student visas – instead, they will enter the country as visitors and will need to meet visa requirements in their own right.

Singapore, where nonresidents make up some 40 percent 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:

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’s Ministry of Manpower also requires that companies provide it with information on the number of applications submitted by Singaporeans, whether Singaporeans were interviewed for the vacancy, and the firm’s current share of Singaporeans in professional, managerial, and executive positions. In 2016, there were more than 300 applications pending for foreign employment passes after 100 firms came under extra scrutiny for not giving Singaporeans a fair chance.

Singapore, which INSEAD’s latest Global Talent Competitiveness Index 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.