The coronavirus lockdown is expected to result in a sharp rise in unemployment and see more Australian workers compete for jobs that are usually held by temporary visa holders. Migration expert Bob Birrell believes the federal government will need to reconsider the visa system and the skilled migration program. Meanwhile, many migrant workers have been laid off but cannot return home due to travel bans; the government may extend their visas and allow them to receive welfare payments:
…the dramatic changes to the labour market wrought by the crisis – mass layoffs are expected as travel, hospitality and service industries shut down – raise questions about the future of the visa system.
“This is potentially a reset of the whole system,” immigration lawyer Jackson Taylor of Hammond Taylor said… there’s a big swathe in the middle where all of a sudden there’s going to be a hell of a lot of unemployment and local skills available for hire that don’t come with the price tag that a temporary migrant comes with”…
Migration expert Dr Bob Birrell said the government would have to re-evaluate its visa policies given the “very large numbers of temporary visa holders already in Australia who are going to be ferociously competing for available work”.
“It will be difficult to sustain a ‘business as usual’ case for the skilled migration program,” he said.
“The hardest hit industries are those that employ temporary casuals and that’s occurring at a time when we have a huge number of temporary visa holders in Australia … it’s going to very difficult for domestic workers, particularly in entry level jobs, to find work.”
Dr Birrell said any significant changes would also have to re-imagine the economy as the government had relied on the migration program to drive economic growth during a time of weak labour productivity.
Australia’s reliance on temporary migrants is bordering on ridiculous, with 2.3 million residing in the country in late 2019, up 640,000 (38%) since 2012:
This flood of temporary migrants, many of whom are ground zero for wage theft and exploitation, and have been paid at below market rates, are a key reason why Australian wage growth has remained stillborn and there is so much labour overcapacity across the economy.
With potentially millions of Australians soon to become unemployed, the last thing workers need is to be competing for scarce jobs with large swathes of temporary migrants.
Once this crisis is over, and air travel has resumed, the federal government must send a significant proportion of these “temporary” migrants back to their home countries.