Foreign graduates push locals out of jobs

Young Australians are facing fierce and increasing competition from foreign-born graduates for a declining number of jobs, according to a new report.

The report says it is the Australians who are losing out, given that the 100,000 new jobs created since 2011 have been almost all taken up by migrants, many of whom are foreign students who graduated from Australian universities and have stayed on.

The study highlights the problems faced by Western countries – that have attracted high migrant numbers from Asia – when unemployment rates begin to rise.

The report says the slowdown in employment growth in Australia is starting to bite on the job situation for the local-born.

This effect is exacerbated by the federal government’s immigration policies to encourage large numbers of migrants into the country, since they have succeeded in taking up all of the net number of new jobs created in Australia over the past two years.

“This is occurring at a time when the potential workforce among young Australians continues to grow. The result is increasing unemployment, a declining level of labour force participation and, in less-skilled, entry-level occupations, ferocious competition for available jobs,” the report says.

Prepared by Dr Bob Birrell and Dr Ernest Healy of Monash University’s centre for population and urban research in Melbourne, the report says there is a strong case for the government to re-evaluate its migration policy.

“At present, the government appears to be operating on two assumptions: the first that employment growth will continue at pre-2011 rates and the second that migrants are filling important skill vacancies in the workforce.

“The recent slowdown in employment manifestly falsifies the first assumption and the poor record of recently arrived degree-qualified migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds in gaining professional and managerial positions belies the second.”

The report says the federal government is wrong in claiming that its migration programme is importing “a highly educated addition to the nation’s skilled workforce” to help fill skill vacancies.

In a study of more than 200,000 immigrants who arrived in Australia since 2011 and their workforce participation, Birrell and Healy found that most graduates from non-English-speaking countries were employed in occupations in sub-professional fields, mainly in community and personal service, and clerical and administrative fields.

The Monash researchers looked at the largest group of recently arrived skilled migrants, which included significant numbers of overseas students who graduated from Australian universities. They say that if the migrants held skills needed in Australia, this should show up in a strong record of employment in managerial and professional positions.

This group is of particular interest because of the government’s aim to boost the proportion of degree-qualified 25- to 34-year-old Australian residents to 40% by 2025.

Birrell and Healy say the government “has been in celebration mode on this issue recently” because it appears its policies of opening up opportunities for university training appear to be working, with the proportion rising from 31.8% in 2008 to 36.8% in 2012.

“In reality, this surge in the proportion of those aged 25 to 34 with degrees has little to do with recent increases in university enrolment levels.

“These will have an impact on the share of the 25- to 34-year-old cohort with degrees over the next decade whereas the recent rise is attributable to migration [because] 72% of the growth between 2006 and 2011 were overseas-born and include a mixture of persons who entered Australia with degrees, and those who trained here as overseas students and have stayed on either as permanent or temporary residents.”

The study found that nearly one in three degree-holding migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds had credentials in management and commerce – a direct result of the high proportion of overseas students who completed accounting courses in Australia and then sought to stay on.

Yet 31% of this group were unemployed compared with 9% of Australian-born graduates and 12% of those from mainly English-speaking countries.

“The bottom line [for the non-English-backgrounders] is that as well as the 31% not employed, only 4% of the total occupied managerial positions and just 26% held professional positions.

“By comparison, 58% of the Australian-born and 53% of those recently arrived from English-speaking countries with degree qualifications reported being employed in professional occupations.”

The report says that more than 672,000 Australians now need to rely on unemployment benefits – up by nearly 56,000 between November 2011 and November 2012 – and that this should be “ringing alarm bells in policy circles”.

Local analysis of youth unemployment also shows very high levels in lower-income areas of Melbourne’s north and west, in Sydney’s western suburbs, in parts of Adelaide and in Queensland. Youth unemployment in northern Adelaide was reported to be as high as 42% – a consequence of significant competition for low-skilled jobs advertised in the northern suburbs.

“Young people without post-school credentials face serious problems in obtaining work in the current labour market. Most have to begin their working life in relatively low-skilled, entry-level jobs, such as in the hospitality and retail areas,” Birrell and Healy write.

“Yet these are the very industries that have been hardest hit in the recent slowdown in employment growth [and] are also the industries in which temporary migrants are most likely to seek employment.”