Australia still lures Indians, despite tighter visa rules

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Coffee bars serving masala chai, Indian restaurants and grocery stores in abundance, Bollywood movies screened in mainstream cinemas – Indian migrants have certainly made a deep impact on Australian society.

Government figures show that India remains the main source of skilled migration to Australia while Indian migrants have contributed significantly to the Australian economy.

“The scale of Indian skilled migration … shows no signs of abating to Australia,” researcher Lesleyanne Hawthorne says in a recent discussion paper for the Australia India Institute, based at the University of Melbourne.

“In 2016-17 an additional 14,899 primary applicants were awarded permanent skilled category visas, compared to 12,649 the previous year and 9,825 in 2008-09,” Hawthorn says in the paper, entitled The Recent Transformation of Indian Skilled Migration to Australia.

Indian skilled migrants, she says, “are characterised by high labour market participation, earnings and employment rates. They have the potential to offer a ‘productivity premium’ given their relative youth, level of English, tertiary training … and acculturation.”

In other words, Indians have been and still are in demand in Australia.

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Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that Indian-born taxpayers have generated billions for the Australian economy – in the year 2011-12, for example, they accounted for $7.9 billion of the $53.4 billion income generated by migrant taxpayers.

And still they keep coming. During the period 2008-09 to 2016-17, Hawthorn says, 114,640 Indians were granted visas under Australia’s permanent skilled migration programme, “far exceeding the scale awarded to Australia’s other top source countries (the UK, China, the Philippines, Ireland and Malaysia).”

Within this same period, India also became Australia’s second top source of temporary visa applicants, with 96,212 of new grants, just behind the UK, but far exceeding the scale of grants to Ireland, the US, the Philippines and China.

But while India is likely to remain the primary source of skilled migration to Australia, there will be a significant drop in numbers due to changes in Australia’s immigration policy, which came into effect in March this year.

The changes will affect the future migration of Indian applicants “very significantly”, especially in the IT and engineering sectors, says Hawthorn.

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The main changes affect those applying for temporary visas, which are generally used as a springboard by would-be migrants wishing to convert their temporary status into permanent residency.

Under the previous 457 visa, successful applicants were allowed to stay in Australia for four years, during which time they could apply for an extension of stay and, if they played their cards right, convert onshore to permanent residence status.

Under the new policy, explains Hawthorn, Australia’s 457 temporary visa has been abolished and replaced by two eligible skilled migration lists.

Additionally, a total of 215 occupations have been banned from temporary labour migration. And the measure that will affect temporary Indian workers the most is the new Short-Term Skilled Occupation List, which permits just two (rather than four)-year entry for applicants in 253 occupations. While successful applicants can apply for one extension of stay, there is no scope to convert to permanent residence status.

Hawthorn says that eight IT, seven professional engineering, one nursing and multiple business/commerce fields feature have been deleted from Australia’s temporary labour migration list. And the number of fields for which four-year permanent visas are granted have been also drastically reduced.

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But she points out that jobs for foreign workers are being slashed in the US, where President Donald Trump is enforcing a “US Jobs for US workers” policy, and in the UK, where third country skilled worker numbers have been capped.

Australia will remain a magnet for skilled Indian workers, even though fewer will be allowed in. Masala chai will continue to be served in coffee bars, more and more Indian restaurants will open their doors, Bollywood films will continue to be shown in Canberra’s Manuka cinema – and new Indian arrivals will continue to be shocked when they misinterpret the Aussie greeting “G’day mate” (good day mate), as “go die mate”.

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