Submission to ‘A Migration System for Australia’s Future’ Review

By Stephen Howes and Evie Sharman

December 2022

In September 2022, the Minister for Home Affairs announced a comprehensive review of Australia’s migration system to ensure it better meets existing challenges and sets a clear direction for the coming decades. The Development Policy Centre’s submission makes the following recommendations:

1: Permanent migration and the Pacific Engagement Visa

(a) The Review should endorse the Pacific Engagement Visa, and recommend its expansion over time.

(b) The Review should rebut the myth that the Australian permanent migration program is or should be non-discriminatory.

2: The growing use of onshore asylum claims as work visas

(a) Given that the main solution to the serious and growing problem of the use of asylum applications as a work visa is to reduce the processing time for asylum applications, a time limit on protection visa decisions should be reintroduced and more resourcing should be temporarily provided to the Department of Home Affairs and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, noting that in the long run a reduced volume of applications will lead to budget savings.

(b) An amnesty for those denied asylum and staying on illegally should not be considered until determination processes have been accelerated, and the attractiveness of the work rights attached to the protection visa accordingly reduced. Otherwise, the introduction of asylum would benefit a relatively small group, while potentially attracting many more to take advantage of what is now a well-trod path of putting in a claim for a protection visa in order to enlarge and extend their work rights in Australia.

(c) The Review should greatly increase the data available on this issue, releasing data on, for example, departmental processing times; number of overstayers; applicants who appeal to the court.

3 to 8: Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM)

3: Reducing exploitation for all migrant workers. Fully implement the recommendations of the 2019 Report of Migrant Workers’ Taskforce, and expand elements of PALM regulation to similar temporary migration programs, such as mandatory employer vetting, worker education and induction, and sanctions on non-compliant operators.

4: PALM-specific measures to improve worker welfare. Promote PALM worker welfare by:

  • making all contract information available in the worker’s language;
  • (ii) setting a floor on workers’ take-home pay;
  • (iii) requiring employers to publicly and in writing reassure workers that complaints are welcome and will not be used against them or impact their employment;
  • (iv) obtaining worker feedback through regular, confidential surveys, both scheme-wide and employer-specific;
  • (v) encouraging employers to build suitable accommodation for their workers; and
  • (vi) mandating sending countries to place at least one liaison officer in Australia once their number of workers reaches a certain minimum.

5: To reduce absconding:

  • implement the recommendations to improve worker welfare (Recommendation 4);
  • (ii) speed up processing times for onshore protection claims (Recommendation 2); and
  • (ii) crackdown on employers who hire migrant workers illegally, with increased funding for compliance activities by the Australian Border Force and the Fair Work Ombudsman.

6: Single administration. Pacific labour mobility should be administered by a single government department or agency.

7: Agricultural visa. As per the Select Committee on Temporary migration, the Australian Government should position the PALM scheme as the ‘predominant source of low and semi-skilled labour’ in Australia’s agricultural sector, and the Review should recommend against the introduction of any new Agricultural visa in the future.

8: Pathways to permanent residency should be built into the PALM scheme to avoid permanently temporary migrant families, especially in sectors where continuity of care is paramount. The Meat Industry Labour Agreement provides a good model that should be piloted for PALM, and a similar model should be introduced for PALM aged care workers. Exemptions for or concessions to PALM workers to TSMIT requirements should be considered to ensure such pathways are viable for PALM low and semi-skilled workers.

9: Regional integration. In order to foster enhanced integration with the Pacific, Australia should pursue a range of migration initiatives to increase the freedom of movement between Australia and Pacific island countries, as well as Timor Leste.

Howes, S. & Sharman, E. 2022, Submission to ‘A Migration System for Australia’s Future’ Review, Development Policy Centre, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, Canberra.

Karen Downing

Karen Downing is Research Communications Coordinator at the Development Policy Centre.