Australia’s broken visa system keeps delivering wrong skills

Late last week, The AFR ran an article bemoaning so-called skills shortage among accountants, which therefore necessitates a big lift in the nation’s ‘skilled’ migration program:

“It’s the tightest job market I’ve ever seen,” said associate partner Priscila Crawford, who specialises in high-level roles at recruitment firm Kona & Co.

She agreed that Australian firms would have to continue to import professionals because of a lack of local supply.

“Accounting has always been a candidate-short market,” Ms Crawford said.

“When we didn’t have issues with borders we still had similar issues around staff shortages, they’ve just become compounded now.

“The industry will need to be more open to recruiting and upskilling candidates from here and overseas.

“Typically, bringing in immigrants to fill a role would require extra time in training and getting them accustomed to our systems. That was the backup option, and without that backup option it’s made things even worse.“

Demand for professional services was “overwhelming” and getting worse, said James Dowdeswell, director and co-owner of recruitment firm Key Moves.

“More firms coming to us than we have ever experienced before,” he said of the demand for staff across accounting, tax and advisory professional…

He said the industry would continue to need to import professionals.

“There’s only so many people in Australia and otherwise you really have to go overseas [to find candidates],” he said.

This came despite accountants being the third highest occupation to receive permanent residency visas in 2020-21:

And the main occupation to receive permanent residency visas in 2019-20:

Permanent residency visas 2019-20

The Grattan Institute’s recent skilled migration report showed that the immigration system has been ruthlessly exploited by accountants:

Current occupation lists, which notionally target skills shortages, do not prioritise migrants in high-skill, high-wage occupations likely to best benefit the Australian community. Further, occupation lists are not well placed to identify skills shortages, since relevant data on wages are not available at a sufficiently detailed level. Instead, occupation lists are heavily shaped by vested interests…

The most prominent contemporary example is accounting. In SkillSelect, there are tens of thousands of prospective skilled workers qualified in accountancy. As Figure 7.11 shows, the number of expressions of interest for a points-tested visa submitted by qualified accountants is equivalent to roughly one fourth of the total number of accountants employed in Australia today. People appear to be studying accountancy because it is on the list.

Accountant visas

Skilled visa farce

The federal government’s own historical skills shortage list also reveals that accountants have not been in shortage since 2008 (i.e. 13 years ago).

Moreover, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment’s latest skills shortage report for accounting, which is curiously no longer available on its site, noted that “employers attracted an average of 14.6 qualified applicants per vacancy” for accounting positions in 2017-18. However, because employers preferred candidates with two or more years of experience, “a large proportion of these applicants were considered to be unsuitable”.

According to the ABS, the average accountant in Australia was 40.5 years old and earned $78,988 in 2018. This compares to the average Australian, who was 39.8 years old and earned $67,012.

Therefore, despite sacrificing three-to-four years of study at university, the average accountant in Australia earned only 18% more than the national average in 2018, which includes unskilled workers and casuals.

Given there is a bonafide surplus of accountants across Australia, why is this occupation included on Australia’s skilled occupations list?

It’s time to cut through the bull and require all work visas (other than the well-regulated Pacific Islands Seasonal Work Program) to be paid at least at the 75th percentile of earnings (preferably higher). This would equate to a minimum salary of $90,500 currently, which would rise over time with earnings:

How much Australians earn

The 75th percentile would set a migrant pay floor of $90,500, which would rise in line with earnings.

Setting a pay floor at this level would ensure that work visas are used sparingly by Australian businesses to employ only highly skilled migrants with specialised skills, not abused by businesses as a tool for undercutting local workers, reducing wage costs, and eliminating the need for training.

Unconventional Economist
Latest posts by Unconventional Economist (see all)


  1. Posted previously / but relevant to this article.

    We do not have a skilled intake. Never have.

    The only ‘skill’ is to falsify a visa application, pay the agent procurer bribes, learn how to live & work illegally on a visa pretext, rort our broken & corrupted border & visa system, engage an immigration lawyer to churn the visa & then finally run off to the appeals tribunal for a five year extension in being allowed to stay.
    Then once granted a PR – the ‘cash back’ from the agent procurer or the sponsored applicant for chain migration of family / spouses / dependents to repeat the cycle.

    PR grants. Skilled.
    Of the 1.4 million+ grants (with most remaining non Australian foreign nationals on sole foreign passports) over the last decade – less than 200k or 14% were ‘skilled’. 1.2 million were not, creating a huge underclass of low & non assimilated non Australian foreign nationals as PR – mostly third world migrants on low incomes, with very high ratios of dependency on Australian taxpayer welfare. That they had made little or no contribution to.

    In addition to 1.4 million PR grants – we have an additional 1.9 million non Australian foreign nationals as TR / SCV foreign nationals onshore today. .
    (Detail below)
    TR/ SCV currently onshore total 1.9 million.
    The skilled category visa is only 104,333 and that includes secondary & dependents.
    The ‘primary’ skilled visa holders ar less than 60,000 & genuine unique skilled (skills not able to be hired in Australia) is estimated at less than 10,000.
    So 10,000 genuine unique skilled in 1.9 million…

    Combining all the non Australian foreign nations on a PR, TR, SCV etc gives a total of 3.5 million non Australian foreign nationals living in Australia with 3.3 million unskilled.

    The 3 big lies now being peddled to Australians to justify even more unskilled non assimilated third world migrant guestworkers include:

    #1. We have a skills shortage
    #2. Increased migrant intake is good
    #3. The migrants went back

    Facts as shown below.

    Lie number #1. ‘Australia has excess jobs and is now denuded of migrants leading to labor & skills shortages’

    The fact is that Australia has less jobs than a year ago & very high unemployment.

    The ABS says Unemployment is only 4.1%.
    We all know that’s a lie in measurement.

    Roy Morgan says that 8.7% of Australians are unemployed. More than double the ABS.
    October 03 2021 Finding No. 8812

    The latest Roy Morgan data shows 1.27 million Australians unemployed in September 2021 for an unemployment rate of 8.7%, with under-employment of 8.0% (1.16 million).
    Total unemployed or underemployed is 2.43 million or 16.6% non employed.

    More importantly the Australian Workforce jobs are only 14.57 million, below pre-lockdown level in June 2021.
    172,000 less jobs than before & we have nearly 9% unemployed!

    So the first big lie exposed.

    Given a residual of say half a million unemployed who just won’t or can’t work – that still leaves about 2 million Australians / PR unemployed or underemployed.
    And with less jobs & record unemployment.

    Yet we have 1.9 million non Australian third world migrants onshore on just TR/SCV pretext visas. Overshoot from pre virus times.
    These long stay migrant TR / SCV who do the most damage to Australians in job & housing theft DID NOT LEAVE. See facts below.

    And now they are competing against Australians (and the PR non Australian foreign nationals) for less Australian jobs.

    Lie #2. Increased migrant intake is economically good.

    Putting aside the PR (much the same ) and dealing with just the 1.9 million TR / SCV migrant guestworkers onshore.

    They facts are that in the last decade of migrant intake – the TR / SCV have (in what otherwise would have been without this intake):
    •Lowered our wages average in comparative terms by 6.8% / costing Australians many tens of billions.
    •Lowered our GDP per Capita in comparative terms by 4.5%.
    •Lowered our productivity in comparative terms by some 5%. Most of the industries these migrant guestworkers participate in has seen dramatic reductions & loss of Australian productivity in world rankings (as is unskilled cash in hand migrant underclass or illegally working labor – rather than say capital investment, employee investment, automation / value add).

    So they are in fact a massive economic & social liability.
    Because – they are third world, unskilled, non assimilated, on low income, not invested in, create housing & use of infrastructure contention, and so are a high impact to our society. They are a particularly high impact to Australian employment & wages and our housing. The PR & particularly the TR/SCV intake do not bring capital & as most are participants in the foreign run blackmarket cash economy, they make little if not zero / negative economic & tax contribution.

    Lie number #3
    ‘The migrants went back’.

    The temporary resident numbers overall – particularly the categories of those who are long stay Temporary visas has not declined.

    They didn’t go back.
    1.9 million TR / SCV are still here.

    They used the virus, border closures, didn’t attend classes, increased their illegal work hours & then visa churn to stay in Australia
    But they are still here in Australia- living & working illegally. See the category detail.

    The only real decline in TR migrants was of about 600,000 in ‘long stay & repeat visitors’ then offset by huge surge in churn onto protection & other visas.

    Fact / detail. Link
    Comparative numbers.

    Dec 2019 to September 2021.

    🔹SCV was 668,687 now 672,659 -3,972
    Much the same number but if masks the continuing trend of aged genuine NZ born returning back to NZ offset by a huge increase & majority of SCV grants to non NZ Asians & Indians to use NZ as an entry point into Australia.

    🔹Students was 480,543 now 377,785 -102,668
    This hides the real number being closer to 580,000 who are now on ‘other visa categories’ as well as partners & so on on secondary visas, or DFAT & other non DHA categories.
    As we all know they are not an export. Their money is earned here. Most enter in debt to a foreign agent procurer, only the first semester is paid upfront, usually borrowed & then all their ‘fees’ and living costs are from money earned here. Over 9 billion is sent back as foreign remittances or agent procurer debt repayments.
    They are not an export.
    They are a very high cost import, each foreign student or partner costing Australian some $52k each yearly in social & economic costs (unemployed Australians, housing, congestion, higher education costs for Australians as the education sector prostitutes itself as a migrant guestworker visa alibi)
    Human capital value?
    Their progression into a higher income and a professional vocation in their home country or Australia if granted a PR?

    3.9% (Migrant Pathways A Decade On report 2015 – leading to the Productivity Commission later recommending the removal of access to PR)
    That’s right – 96% of all foreign students in Australia fail to ever achieve a professional higher income vocation a decade later.

    Zero / negative human capital value.

    They remain unskilled with their useless falsified diplomas & certificates, often with no international recognition, non assimilated, entrenched in the foreign criminal run migrant black economy.

    🔹Skilled was 119,160, now 104,333 -14,827
    Always marginal & a marginal reduction. In fact there are only 76,000 primary skilled and even that’s massively overstated.
    Most of the skilled are usually on a cash back deal by the employer with falsified skills by the migrant (aka Gladys/Darryl)

    We don’t have a skilled intake.
    Nearly 95% of the 1.9 million non Australian migrant TR or SCV are on an unskilled visa category.

    🔹Visitors was 635,109, now is 28,741 -606,368
    Here is the biggest reduction, the Chinese, south East Asians & Indians coming in on long stay or repeat stay visitor visas to live & work illegally. Or in ‘Medicare tourism’ (all those bus loads of elderly Chinese & Indians) to avail themselves of Australian Medicare & then PBS drugs to fund their trip using a borrowed or frauded Medicare identity.

    🔹Bridging was 119,655, now 359,981 so +240,326. Up nearly quarter of a million.
    Exploding as their visas expire or they churn onto this racket to extend their stay.

    🔹’Other’ 300,143 210,796 -89,347
    Still a huge number 210,000 made up of a splendid array of niche visa categories – all corrupted.

    And in the 2020 total we can add Temp visa now granted PR to join the conga line for welfare (167,432 grants so +167,432)
    I haven’t added overstayers (+70,000) or DFAT & scholarship/ trade visa bribes & gifting but that’s another (+35,000) or +105,000 in addition.

    Totals (offical DHA visa categories- doesn’t include DFAT or overstayers)
    Dec 2019 2,203,543
    Oct 2021 1,921,727
    Actual reduction onshore -281,816

    And almost of that in the 600,000 plus reduction of illegal working ‘long & repeat stay visitor’ category.
    Other visa categories stayed much the same or went up.

    Cross check of Scanlon source data..
    Temporary visa holders ABS/DHA table
    Use the Oct 2021 data link.

  2. It has to be acknowledged there is an acute shortage of accountants willing to work for $45k per year. Probably because they’re accountants!

    • Arthur Schopenhauer

      There’s also a shortage of Data Scientists with PhDs willing to work for the generous $45,000 salary. The ungrateful nerds all seem to go to go to the US and get paid 10 times as much! Fools!

  3. UpperWestsideMEMBER

    Junior accounting jobs are well and truly in the firing line of AI/ML.
    So hiring a 20 something from OS for a job that will not exist in 10 years time makes little sense.
    Unlimited visa’s for Masters and PHD level AI skills from real universities , now thats the ticket!

  4. Lord DudleyMEMBER

    When the pandemic is over, all these accountants and computer programmers (especially the computer programmers, since Australia doesn’t have a tech sector) will make excellent Uber drivers!

  5. C'est de la folieMEMBER

    I can say this much vis accountants.

    My wife is/was an accountant. She was a management accountant for what was then the seventh largest oil producer in the world in Russia ten years ago. She planned and ensured their tax payments (which is actually pretty important in the scheme of things there)

    For ten years since moving to Australia she has been told ‘no Australian experience, yada yada yada’ so has largely just stayed at home to look after kids. While doing a Cert IV in bookkeeping.

    Why this country would be taking accountants in is beyond me.

    • In the early 1990’s there were a large number of top-notch computer programmers from Russia wanting to immigrate to Australia. Unfortunately, the pencil-heads in Canberra had not yet got around to adding “Software and Applications Programmers” to their skills list. If those people had been let in, just imagine the boost it would have given to the Australian computer industry.

    • she should just be a smart a s s and say something like oh why are DRs and CRs different in australia compared to rusia
      shows the employer in the interview there and then they are a d ick head and out of touch
      if you know your Drs and Crs and have good conceptul skills in my mind everything else falls into place
      in 1996 an employer said to me you accountants are a dime a dozen. he was right

  6. boomengineeringMEMBER

    That’s a lot of work you did Mike. Funny how it’s taken so long to start filtering into MSM.
    Oh no Mikes post deleted.

    • That’s one of the main reasons why I cancelled my membership. I can only assume you are referring to mike mb who usually posts a single and rather substantial piece packed with numbers and facts. I mean a lot of effort is put in those posts and then with a stroke of pen all is destroyed.

      • The spambot ate Mike’s comment (because it looks like spam and has been cut-and-paste many times). I have pulled it out of the spam filter.

        We hardly moderate/delete anything, so I don’t know what you are going on about.

        Try commenting on any other site. I bet you’ll have a much harder time.

        But yeah, go ahead and cancel your membership… Freedom of speech and all that.

      • I mean a lot of effort is put in those posts […]

        Yet none into making the sources easy to access and verify said “facts”.

        • Sources are listed. And links.
          And they have always been or provided when asked.
          Sometimes MB deletes comments with more than 1 web reference link.
          Which is why my comment here on the OP article only has 1 web link reference which validates all the statements & then text words to another as cross check)

        • You have made these sorts of criticisms before, but they would be a lot more credible if you could actually identify some false or misleading statements by MikeMB. It shouldn’t be that hard to check.

  7. C'est de la folieMEMBER

    We must fix a few problems before we can increase immigration

    Despite huge numbers of students completing accounting degrees and accounting firms saying they can’t find qualified accountants, these students are struggling to secure jobs using their qualifications, which makes it harder for them to stay in Australia.

    And the real issue is in the next paragraph

    This is the status quo in many occupations. The business sector and education providers must address this problem before we again boost student numbers. Education providers need to encourage students to enrol in courses that meet long-term demand in Australia. And they must ensure they are teaching content and skills employers need. Employers too must be prepared to give students the chance to develop their skills without exploiting them.

    Lets unpack that para sentence by sentence…..there is plenty in it

    Education providers need to encourage students to enrol in courses that meet long-term demand in Australia.

    Education providers don’t do that, they ask where they can make money selling a course they are capable of providing and if they can muster enthusiasm for doing that course in a fee paying ‘market’

    And they must ensure they are teaching content and skills employers need.

    They don’t do this either, because employers generally don’t even want to think in terms of what skills they ‘need’ they think in terms of what qualifications they want and what accreditation they want people working with them to have.  None of that is necessarily about ‘need’.  For the most part they are about servicing skills and following management directions (no matter how insane) – they are very very rarely about thinking and numeracy or literacy, and even more rarely about thiking in any level of complexity beyond that which can be taught on any given job in a few minutes by a workplace mentor.  

    Employers too must be prepared to give students the chance to develop their skills without exploiting them.

    Employers for the most part in Australia don’t have any environment in which students can develop their skills.  They tend to work on ‘behaviours’ and ‘cultures’ and assume skill sets are a given.  Maybe in fields like some harder sciences, computer software engineering, engineering real skills are required and need development, but anywhere else in Australia’s bubble economy it is all about values and ‘fitting in’ and ‘don’t rock the boat’ which makes it a natural environment for exploiting students – particularly foreign students  – who will always be nervous about their ability to fit in, and will always be encouraged to think first and foremost about the ‘opportunity’ they are given, which works just fine for managements who think first and foremost about themselves, and not about growing businesses but about doing what they did yesterday as cheaply as possible with as little questioning as possible. In fact there are a lot of Australian managements who would assume that subordinates with skills represent a threat to them and that consequently those subordinates should be marginalised and denied opprtunity on that basis alone – with the opprtunity allocated to ‘team players’.

    Unless Australia is prepared to create an environment where businesses actually look to do something beyond the norm then there is sweet FA need for migrants in Australia because all we are going to do is continue to live off the proceeds of whoever is selling whatever natural resource we are producing.  If we are living in that economy then we don’t need migrants at all because all we are doing is importing more people to receive a share of the proceeds of the natural bounty of the land.

    The only case for saying we ‘need’ migrants is if we are actually setting about creating an outward facing competitive economy which is about creating new products systems and ways of doing things which require making constructing and designing things we can actually do ourselves.

    Australian employers wont go within a bulls roar of even thinking about that posture until such point as we are not home to the worlds most expensive people, living and working on the worlds most expensive land, using the worlds most expensive energy and communicating with the worlds most expensive internet.

    • Arthur Schopenhauer

      Is it any surprise that a Government sponsored by Strip Miners, applies the same principles to its own people?

    • managements who think first and foremost about themselves, and not about growing businesses but about doing what they did yesterday as cheaply as possible with as little questioning as possible

      Rings true.

    • until such point as we are not home to the worlds most expensive people, living and working on the worlds most expensive land

      another commenter haroldus?? used to say it is all too late to fix the problems, the answers lay back in time. so true. the number one problem is the land price in australia, second highest in the world. even alice springs in middle of desert is expensive, hard too believe. i think australia is totally screwed and only a few ppl seem to realize it, such as the ppl on this forum. i personally think we are going down the economic tube and will probably be there for a thousand years. look at the worlds empires of the past ie rome, greece, etc. now just light weights in scheme of things. the huge land price has stuffed us up so bad. we dont do anything in australia anymore, was it not henry george that said a rich country is that which can apply the human talents of manual / brains to the physical world to produce goods. we dont do that anymore. what goods do we produce.
      macrobusiness opened my eyes that all we do is import ppl trading high education costs for citizenship, tourism, grow fungible agriculture and dig up fungible minerals. disastrous. truly it is all too late to fix things. the only questions for me (1) is when do we have a land price crash and does it do a japan zombie and stay down (2) do we war with china starting 2026 (3) when do interest rates revert to their true long term pattern as they are at 5000 year lows apparently (incredible to believe that we are at 5000 year lows on interest rates)
      i see nothing good for australia in the future. we are going down the path of empires that have failed

  8. Arthur Schopenhauer

    Australia needs an Industrial Policy first, and an immigration policy in service of it.

    Nuclear Subs are not possible without a comprehensive Industrial Policy.

    The cart is about 10 years ahead of the horse.

  9. Display NameMEMBER

    This is the bit I don’t understand. We have ~800+K foreign students in the country many here as a path to residency. We allege we have a skills shortage. Surely this is *trivial* to solve with appropriate scholarships and get *really* competent people filling the gaps?

        • rob barrattMEMBER

          Non Non my dear ‘astings! Use the little grey cells!
          No politician gives a monkeys about the skills. It’s about the profit in “consultancy fees” to the property developers who will build the apartments for them! Follow the money n’est ce pas?

  10. I’m starting to think the business news is really about giving business people a platform to argue against whatever the facts, data or statistics say to advocate solely for their own interests.

  11. We own a tax firm. We advertise regularly. Most applications have a course similar to this as part of their resume:
    A masters in professional accounting is a bs qualification and no one who has one should be classed as an accountant. With these courses there clearly is no need to be fluent in English.

    • But ill bet it meets the requirements for skilled migration.
      Designed not for training accountants but instead for migration purposes in the interests of the ‘system’.
      Thing is the students have been lied to about the qualification…
      UNE is just clipping the ticket on the scam.

    • I'll have anotherMEMBER

      Why BS? Genuine question.

      2 years, full time, post grad study in accountancy, resulting in a master’s degree from an Australian University isn’t a valid qualification?

      • Genuine answer. I have never met or received a resume from someone who has a masters in professional accounting that:
        A) was born in this country
        B) has a graduate degree from an Australian university
        C) has English as there first language
        D) is fluent in both written and verbal English
        E) is suitable for employment in an Australian tax firm

        Your question highlights the problem. Bogus courses being offered that do nothing for the student or for Australia.

        Research it and tell me I’m wrong.

        • I'll have anotherMEMBER

          A) was born in this country
          C) has English as there first language

          Both these seem irrelevant. Einstein was born in Germany and spoke Dutch as his first language.

          Also, *their

          B) has a graduate degree from an Australian university

          Well this is wrong. Perhaps you meant an undergraduate degree from an Australian university? The masters degree in question is a graduate degree from an Australian university.

          D) is fluent in both written and verbal English

          Fair point if true but unrelated to the qualification.

          E) is suitable for employment in an Australian tax firm

          This is a general, unsubstantiated comment. Does the degree not instruct in local laws, jargon and regulation? Seems an odd outcome from a masters degree.

          • You are missing the point. I am guessing there is a reason for that.
            Do the research. The masters of professional accounting is not a qualification I would recommend.

          • I'll have anotherMEMBER

            My reason was genuine curiosity as to why a graduate for a masters program in professional accounting from an Australian university would be unsuitable for a graduate role in accounting in Australia.

            I have no ulterior motive. My research was asking you, a worker in the industry your opinion.

            After hearing your reasoning, my take away is they are not good with written or spoken English as the rest of the points don’t seem related to the degree.

            All the best.

          • Because these degrees do NOT have accountancy training as their primary objectiuve. The meet the minimum requirements for skilled migration points. That is it. They are a scam. Nothing more nothing less.

            This is what Australian universities (particularly lower tier ones) have become. UNE and murdoch being bottom feeders amongst a bad bunch.

          • I'll have anotherMEMBER

            In that case Gramus, the institution representing accountants should not allow industry certification to graduates from this degree.

            However, the degree states it allows the graduate to “Qualify for admission to the major Australian professional accounting bodies for full membership and continuing professional development”.

            Sounds like the accountants need to talk to their representing body assuming what you say is true and all the graduates from this degree are unemployable.

  12. Accountant here.

    Verbal / written English skills are an important factor, as many graduates have questionable English ability despite many of these degrees requiring a IELTS / TOEFL score to demonstrate proficiency with the language.

    If a staff member isn’t able to adequately communicate in English, how well will they go communicating with their colleagues? Or understanding what their boss asks them? And what happens when you out them in front of a client? This impacts your firm’s reputation and undermines their suitability for employment in an Australian tax firm.

    Many of these courses are viewed within the industry as Mickey Mouse degrees, which many local students avoid. Another factor not mentioned above is teaching quality and questions about the candidate’s knowledge. Don’t get me started on the amount of cheating and dependence on group assignments.