Even Abul Rizvi rejects latest mass immigration push

You know the latest immigration push is a dud when one of the nation’s vocal long-time supporters of ‘Big Australia’ mass immigration – Abul Rizvi – loses faith.

Last month Abul Rizvi warned that recent visa changes risk turning Australia into a low-skill guest worker society:

Dr Rizvi has warned that the recent removal of limits on overseas students’ working hours risks subverting international education and reviving the problems of over a decade ago, when enrolments were motivated by migration and work opportunities rather than course quality.

He said foreign students were increasingly competing for low-skilled jobs with backpackers, Pacific Island agricultural labourers and “trafficked asylum seekers”, amid rampant exploitation and wage theft.

All this ran counter to the policy imperative of recruiting “high-performing students” to feed skilled migration and fuel Australia’s economic and population growth…

He said Canberra’s aspiration to rebuild net overseas migration to about 235,000 a year, as articulated in the 2021 Intergenerational Report, would be “impossible to deliver without a very strong contribution from overseas students”…

Dr Rizvi said international education was being undermined by the poaching of students and worker exploitation that had “overwhelmed” the Fair Work Ombudsman – a problem likely to escalate, with Australia expanding the Pacific Labour Scheme for low-skilled islanders and flagging an agricultural worker visa akin to widely criticised guest worker schemes of the US and Europe.

“We now have students with unlimited work rights in tourism, hospitality, retail and agriculture,” Dr Rizvi said. “That is a fundamental change to Australian society. It’s a fundamental change I thought Australia would never make.”

Last week Rizvi attacked the low quality of international students migrating to Australia and called for reforms to tighten the system:

The public policy risks associated with the overseas student program have remained much the same since the export of education industry started in the mid-1980s. These include:

  • Large numbers of students being left in long-term immigration limbo, predominantly because they have undertaken courses that are not in demand…
  • Students with inadequate English language skills or general aptitude to do the course they have enrolled in.
  • Students with inadequate finances which means they become heavily reliant on employment well beyond the 40 hours per fortnight traditionally allowed (prior to recent changes allowing almost unlimited work rights). This makes students more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse as well as not having sufficient time to study for their course. It also drives down wages and conditions for the low skilled work that students traditionally do (eg if an employer can get a vulnerable overseas student for less than the minimum wage, why employ an Australian who may insist on their rights?).
  • Less reputable education providers becoming involved in a race to the bottom as essentially visa factories offering cheap courses with minimal study requirements to enable students to work in low paid jobs for long hours.
  • Education providers becoming dependent on students from a narrow range of source countries and are thereby vulnerable to either a fall in demand from that source country or any tightening of student visa regulations.

The pressure on Tudge and Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to ignore these risks will be intense given the financial losses the international education industry has suffered during the pandemic and its desperation to recover its losses.

The international education industry… will be baying for student visa requirements to be “streamlined” in the interests of “cutting red tape” and allowing student numbers to increase rapidly…

If Tudge and Hawke truly believe in a high-quality international education industry, they would be wise to proceed cautiously and avoid the many spruikers and urgers who are only interested in maximising student numbers and short-term profits.

And yesterday Rizvi urged policy makers to fix the problems in our visa system before ramping up immigration:

Only once in our history has net migration been a little more than 300,000 and that was just before the global financial crisis…

Leaving aside “trivial” questions of whether our infrastructure and services such as health, education, housing and transport can be ramped up quickly enough to accommodate the proposed unprecedented increase in immigration, the immediate question is how the increase would be designed and delivered…

To reach these figures, the federal government will need to make it easier for older people and people with more limited English and/or lower skill levels to migrate to Australia. This risks large numbers of new migrants finding it even harder to secure a job using their qualifications, and with no access to social support for four years, many would have to accept very low paying and highly exploitative jobs to avoid becoming destitute.

As a country, we need to ask ourselves if that is a consequence we are willing to accept.

We all know that “infrastructure and services such as health, education, housing and transport” won’t be ramped up “quickly enough to accommodate the proposed unprecedented increase in immigration”. It didn’t happen in the prior 15 years of high net overseas migration, which averaged 220,000 people a year. So only a fool would believe it will happen the next time immigration is ramped-up.

Obviously, my view is that Australia’s immigration intake should be cut to around 100,000 a year – the historical average – with the intake focused on a higher quality entrants.

This can be achieved in two ways.

First, require all temporary and permanent work visas (other than the well regulated Pacific Island Seasonal Worker Scheme) 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. Further information is provided here.

Second, target a smaller intake of higher quality international students via:

  1. Raising entry standards (particularly English-language proficiency);
  2. Raising financial requirements needed to enter Australia; and
  3. Removing the explicit link between studying, work rights and permanent residency.

These reforms would lift student quality, would raise genuine export revenues per student, would remove competition in the jobs market, would reduce wage theft and exploitation, and would lower enrolment numbers to sensible and sustainable levels that are more in line with international norms.

In short, Australia’s immigration program should focus on quality over quantity. Doing so would maximise wellbeing for current and future Australians, which must be our government’s primary focus.

Unconventional Economist
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    • strange economicsMEMBER

      Lets raise minimum for fruit picking and exploited restaurant worker to 90K.
      Should find there is no shortage of staff then.
      There is only a shortage of staff that can live on a low wage or rent an overpriced house nearby. Apparently migrants and backpackers are OK as they are assumed can just live happily 7 in an apartment.

  1. I am not convinced that Rizvi is rejecting the high immigration. Sounds more like he’s interested in making it viable.

    • Rizvi is the ultimate fellow traveller. He actually supports the 235,000, plus simultaneously he wants the nirvana of a perfectly streamlined visa system, with all partner visas granted ASAP as per overarching UN requirements. Too easy.

      The ambit claim of the other side of the argument should be zero net migration, then let’s fall back from there. Once you say “100,000”, then Morrison or Perrotet or Albanese will double it the following day.

  2. “We now have students invaders with unlimited work rights in tourism, hospitality, retail and agriculture”

    There. Fixed it for him.

  3. C'est de la folieMEMBER

    Another population ponzi spruiking plate full of half masticated tropes from Liz Allen…..

    So Australia wants to welcome migrants again? Good luck with that

    October 22, 2021 — 5.00am
    Liz Allen

    Suddenly everybody’s talking about immigration. As Australia opens up and emerges from almost two years of global isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg warns our record low population growth – due to closed borders – will act as a handbrake on the economy in coming decades. The Australian Chamber of Commerce is calling for a big injection of skilled migrants. And Premier Dominic Perrottet wants a “big NSW”. Bring back the migrants, reignite the economy!

    Well, good luck with that, Australia.

    Already there is a sense that Liz knows she is pushing the wall of stools up a 1 in 3 incline with a pole.  She has a slender grasp on a point.  There has been an awful lot of talk about immigration in the recent past.  But it has all been a distinctive kind of talk.  It has all been very one dimensional and exhibiting one of 3 distinctive traits:-

    1.       Lots of talk about the need to all of a sudden start bringing massive numbers of people back into the country, without giving any sense that there may be some downsides worth mentioning, let alone considering. OR

    2.       Lots of talk about the need to all of a sudden start bringing massive numbers of people back into the country fuelled by comments from Aig or ACCI or from business leaders running a model of harvesting all the additional bums on seats – see above – without acknowledgement that they have a direct pecuniary interest in selling that message. OR

    3.       Lots of talk about the need to all of a sudden start bringing massive numbers of people back into the country, with public comments turned off

    It has been notable for being bereft any balance, perspective or attempt to engage with people who are either not in complete agreement, or who may have a differing view.  It has been based in assumptions nobody wants to explore.  It has been an exhortation.  It has all been about belief and not rationale……

    Nobody wants anyone thinking about immigration, and it appears lots of people would like those who do think about immigration not to write their thoughts as comments anywhere near immigration related articles in the press………..here’s looking at you, Ninefax….

    Anyway, back to Liz…..

    Already there is evidence that people overseas looking to migrate are considering countries such as Canada and the United States over Australia. The US, Canada and Britain were already in stiff competition with Australia to attract the best and brightest, but this competition is only set to increase.

    Liz opts for the faux thinking of the Age……we are in a competition……  Someone is choosing Canada, the US or UK instead of us – and we should be looking to beat them by encouraging people to come here instead.

    Liz shouldn’t be such an idiot.  Such a competition only exists in the minds of those who have never set foot in Canada the US or UK – where precisely the same concerns about immigration and its use as a national economic policy driver exist as those that people like Liz would rather weren’t given opportunity to slip their comments into the media here.  British PM Boris Johnston summed it up quite nicely recently when he noted that…..

    “The way forward for our country is not to just pull the big lever marked uncontrolled immigration, and allow in huge numbers of people to do work … So what I won’t do is go back to the old failed model of low wages, low skills supported by uncontrolled immigration,”

    It doesn’t sound like Boris is competing with us to get more people, does it…..

    Indeed a lot of people – the type of person denied a place in Australia’s mainstream media, and certainly closed out of commenting on immigration related articles at Ninefax – would be thinking ‘If Boris is thinking uncontrolled immigration is connected with low wages, what are the controls on our immigration seeing as I have been getting low wages?’ – leading to all sorts of observations about economic growth and immigration of the type regularly run by Leith and David here at MB, but rarely aired anywhere else.

    And back again to Liz…..for a serving of utter codswallop

    I fear the damage done during COVID through the lack of goodwill shown to temporary migrants, a critical source of skills in the Australian workforce, will undermine any renewed efforts to welcome much-needed people from overseas. Prime Minister Scott Morrison told non-citizens living in Australia to “go home” and the government denied financial assistance to temporary migrants, forcing many to rely on donations.

    Australia has lost its sheen.

    Dear Liz, could you nominate a country anywhere – particularly amongst those nominated as preferred destinations for migrants as you have outlined in the previous stanza – which has treated temporary migrants in any way differently than Australia has done?  Is there a single country in the OECD which has provided financial support?  Is there a nation in the OECD which did not tell temporary migrants it was in their interests to go home when Covid 19 first hit?

    Then there is the assertion from Liz that temporary migrants are a ‘critical source of skills in the Australian workforce ’ – which brings us to the question of a critical source of skills to do what?  There might be some specific types of technician or professional or medical type that we aren’t producing or cant produce at short notice here in a nation with a first world education system, but how desperate are we for those ‘’critical’ skills?  How many of those temporary migrants are here as students, or doing low level menial administrative or labouring work or picking fruit and veggies?

    Australia may or may not have lost its sheen, but not in relation to any other nation…….and Liz is trying to sheen up a turd.

    COVID-19 has been a natural experiment of sorts, proving the importance of immigration and the valuable contributions of migrants for the nation. A lack of labour in the horticultural sector has resulted in produce being left to rot rather than being picked and sold in national and international markets. Amid the crushing economic pressures of the global pandemic and industries being frozen by public health measures to keep the nation safe, our local skills and workforce have been insufficient to meet demands.

    Additionally, the COVID-19 population experiment has demonstrated that migrants are not inflating housing costs, do not steal local jobs and nor do they suppress local wages. Net overseas migration is expected to be minus-77,400 this year and yet house prices, say Westpac economists, will surge 22 per cent. Meanwhile, we’ve had lower-than-expected unemployment and low wage growth, all while the borders have been shut. With this arsenal of evidence, you’d be forgiven for thinking immigration could recommence without public opposition and return to pre-pandemic levels without delay.

    Liz is back to bemoan that ‘critical’ skills loss resulting in our farmers being unable to increase wages enough to entice locals to pick their produce.  And here we were thinking that those farmers would find a way to make it happen if there was money to be made in it.

    Next she wades in with the pandemic ‘demonstrating’ that migrants aren’t inflating housing costs, not taking local employment opportunities or suppressing local wages.  Someone could get through to Liz and mention that 120 Billion worth of fiscal stimulus and barrel bottom interest rates can offset loss of demand from migrants vis housing, and the rising incomes in some sectors following the departure easily accessible migrants (after they were advised to go home) might count against her contentions.

      Recent commentary about a bigger Australia has prompted discussion about a migration-led population boom to kickstart the national economy. The federal Treasurer and minister responsible for immigration have both signalled the importance of immigration and the need to get the borders open. The Labor opposition is seemingly taking a more cautious approach to immigration and has been busy talking about reincarnating local industries with roots in the 1950s, such as car-making, to secure local jobs. But both major parties know the socio-economic importance of immigration.

    I would like to see immigration feature in a post-pandemic recovery. I’m all for immigration that compliments the local demographic needs. And Australia needs more working-age people to get the country going again.

    One sense the shrillness of Liz’ exhortations about here.  When she says ‘both major parties…..’ you can hear her thinking ‘don’t they?’  And that that observation about local industries and local jobs sure doesn’t sound like everyone has bought the immigration has no effect on jobs and incomes line, does it?

    She is on thin ice and she knows it’s cracked….

    But Australia will struggle to meet the demand for immigration and necessary skills in the short-term. Australia’s diplomatic tensions with China and COVID pressures in India will constrain the flow of migrants from the two largest source countries. Canada is the No.1 preferred destination for international students, followed by the US and Britain. Australia takes out fourth place.

    She is back with the competition theme again.  But only after questioning where the migrants will come from if they don’t come from China or India.  Maybe we should have a national immigration mandate of no more than 10% of migrants from any country? (to diversify the risk). But she doesn’t mention that Australia wont ’struggle’ because there is very very little ‘demand’ for migrants in either the short or any other term, and the only demand she has referred to in this entire piece is for fruit and vegetable pickers.

    If the projections of the federal government’s 2021 Intergenerational Report are anything to go by, Australia’s population growth and migration intake are going to be slower and lower, and neither will fully recover to pre-COVID levels. This is the short and medium outlook.

    Australia needs to reset after the devastating economic and demographic impacts of COVID. Call it our post-pandemic rebuild, and it will be a watershed. Immigration will necessarily feature. But I don’t anticipate immigration increases will occur in the near future, not for want of trying on Australia’s part but because it has lost its sparkle.

    She closes out this lifeless piece of inane verbiage questioning projections in the Intergenerational report without ever considering where economic growth could ever be reflective of anything other than ever increasing numbers of people.

    Liz misses the point that Australia hasn’t lost its sparkle – it is regaining just enough sparkle (lets call it 10 watts) to consider if there is something other than population Ponzi it could reasonably do for itself as a socio economic model.

    Dr Liz Allen is a demographer at the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods.

    There are some good reasons to support immigration but Liz isnt up to giving them to anyone…….

    • It’s true that temporary migrants are a ‘critical source of skills in the Australian workforce ’ – if by that Liz means supermarket workers and Uber drivers!

  4. “Raising financial requirements needed to enter Australia”

    This is pretty much a useless criterion nowadays since such students plan on working during their studies regardless.