Migration to Australia has been slashed to its lowest level in more than a decade after the federal government put tough new hurdles in place.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has claimed that the fall in numbers was a consequence of the government meticulously going through applications to weed out unsuitable claims.
“We’re making sure that people who do become part of our Australian family are coming here to work, not to lead a life on welfare,” Mr Dutton said.
But business lobby groups, migration agents and representatives of ethnic groups have criticised the cuts, warning of economic damage if the numbers are allowed to fall further.
Groups representing more than 60,000 Australian businesses have criticised the Turnbull government’s cuts to skilled and family migration.
Australia took in 20,000 fewer permanent migrants than in the previous financial year, mostly becasue of a 12,000 drop in skilled visas and an 8,000 drop in family visas.
The Australian Industry Group, one of the nation’s leading business groups, said the cut was disappointing.
“We are strong supporters of the migration program and to see it drop so significantly below the 2017-18 intake ceiling is disappointing,” AIG’s chief executive, Innes Willox, said.
Mr Willox said it was to the government’s credit that skilled visas still made up the same percentage of the intake, at about 68 per cent.
However, he encouraged the government to “get closer to reaching the ceiling” of 190,000 places this financial year. The official cap is still set at 190,000, despite real numbers falling short this year.
“Skilled migrants generate the greatest economic benefits to the Australian community, through their direct contributions to our national employment and skills base,” Mr Willox said. “Many also bring specialist attributes that provide even bigger benefits, by deepening our entrepreneurship, innovation and international linkages.”
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry blasted the cuts, arguing employers were paying the political price for the government’s failure to keep up with infrastructure demands in growing cities.
“This is a real crisis,” the chamber’s CEO James Pearson said.
“This is a problem right now, particularly for regional businesses serving regional communities. Politicians have failed to plan properly for the population growth in Sydney and Melbourne and regional Australia is now paying the price because of this cutback in our skilled migration by stealth.”
Both sides of politics have praised the lower numbers with Labor leader Bill Shorten vowing to clamp down on the number of temporary work visas.
“No temporary visa worker should be here for a day longer than it takes to train an Australian,” Mr Shorten told the Australian Financial Review.
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