Migrant intake ‘oversupplying graduates in key fields’

A new study has revealed that the number of university graduates in this country has reached record levels as a result of the rapid expansion in local university enrolments and a rising intake of degree-holding migrants.

But Australia now has a significant oversupply of graduates and there are too few jobs for young Australians, while unemployment among graduate migrants is also on the rise. Yet the federal government continues to admit tens of thousands of foreign professionals with degrees who hold qualifications that are not needed.

In a paper released on 13 March, Australia’s Skilled Migration Program: Scarce skills not required, the author, Bob Birrell, president of the Australian Population Research Institute, says only a small proportion of recently-arrived migrant professionals are actually employed in jobs for which they are qualified.

“Australia’s migrant selection system does not prioritise professional occupations where there are skill shortages in Australia,” he says. “As a result, it is delivering large numbers of professionals in fields that are currently oversupplied, including accounting, engineering and many of the health professional fields.”

Birrell is a former reader in sociology at Monash University and was the founding director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research there.

“Australia is awash with graduates from both domestic and migrant sources. Demand for graduates may grow, but so too will supply,” he writes.

“Domestic student commencements are increasing rapidly, in part because young Australians are being encouraged to enter university, particularly in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] disciplines, and in part because recent deregulation of university enrolments has financed this expansion.”

Birrell’s paper disputes government claims that Australia’s permanent entry skills programme is delivering scarce skills “vital to Australia’s economic health”.

Key findings

The focus of his paper, he says, is on whether these claims have any substance – and the conclusion is that they do not.

The key findings are:
  • • The great majority of skilled migrants are professionals of whom an increasing share have qualifications that are already oversupplied. On the other hand, a “negligible number” of construction trade workers are being recruited to provide the housing and infrastructure needed for Australia’s booming population.

  • • Instead of Australia’s skilled migration programme targeting professional migrants with the skills required now, it is recruiting those who might be needed in two to 10 years, including accountants and engineers who are already far too numerous for the jobs available.

  • • Of more than 256,500 overseas-born degree holders who arrived in Australia aged 25-34 from non-English-speaking countries over the past decade, only 24% are employed as professionals. That compares with 50% of those from English-speaking countries and 58% of the same aged Australian-born graduates.

  • • By 2017, 38.5% of Australian residents aged 25-29 held degree-level qualifications and 40% of those aged 30-34. This is high by international standards.
Birrell says the findings mean it is unlikely Australia will need any additions to its “stock of professionals from migrant sources”. He adds that the government’s “skill stream programme is deeply flawed”.

The government has maintained a permanent entry migration programme at around 205,000 a year, higher than during Australia’s resources boom era that ended in 2012, a period during which there were significant skill shortages.

“Since 2012, Australia’s real economic growth rate has dropped from around 4% per annum to around 2.5%. The skill shortages of the boom era have sharply diminished so why is migration continuing at such a high level?”