The desire by various Australian industries to overcome specific skills shortages by embracing the skilled migrant program is often hamstrung by migrants’ qualifications from their home country being acknowledged by the Government to get into the country, but not being recognised by many employers once they are here.
It’s why highly skilled migrants are often doing such jobs as driving ride share vehicles to pay the bills, new research shows.
The findings emerge as multiple industries across the nation, including aged care, continue to battle skills shortages and the unemployment rate remains at record lows.
Federal migration policies select migrants for credentials and skills pegged to education levels and occupations.
But many employers still don’t recognise their qualifications, a study by Flinders University and Charles Darwin University found.
“We argue Australia should consider developing a more coherent skilled migration process to better harness the human capital of skilled migrants,” research co-author Dr Andreas Cebulla, from Flinders University’s Australian Industrial Transformation Institute, said.
Skilled migrants in South Australia from India, the UK, China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Iran and the Philippines were interviewed for the study.
Migrants were most puzzled by the discrepancy between what Australia accepts in its points score and what employers do not.
“It’s not enough to have a stamp of approval, they also need work experience which, as newly arriving migrants, is impossible. So they have to do additional training,” Cebulla said.
“The other conflicting message is from industry where we hear about skills shortages.
“When it comes to actually employing those migrants they’re calling for, they’re not fitting the job description.
“You end up with lots of highly qualified Uber drivers.”
Many migrants end up working in jobs lower than their skill level, especially in information and communications technology, business, human resources and marketing professions, reflecting an oversupply of labour in those fields.
Despite a robust assessment for working visas, employers view accredited qualifications of migrants as insufficient, Cebulla said.
It was difficult to understand why people with TAFE qualifications in aged and disability care, where there was high demand, couldn’t get work, he said.
In some sectors, additional courses helped. While IT is a standardised course, doing another TAFE course inexplicably helped someone with a computer science degree get a job in Australia.
Many migrants were unaware their original qualifications in areas including IT, business, education, engineering, science, law and health, would not be accepted in Australia.
“People are not given this information before they arrive. They take any job but it’s not a springboard. They are excluded from social welfare but you’re basically telling them to go back to school,” Cebulla said.
Almost half the migrants surveyed worked in occupations other than those nominated in their visa applications because they needed income.
“I am finding difficulty in securing employment as a secondary school teacher,” a South African woman told researchers.
“I do relief teaching but cannot get consistent work. I therefore have to resort to being a personal carer to support my family.”
Prospects in a nominated occupation increased for those with diplomas or post-graduate diplomas, especially in health, though many remained underemployed.
The study showed men were more likely to be employed than women.
Age also impacted chances of employment in a chosen occupation, with those in their 20s most affected because they were less likely to have work experience.
Those aged 40 or older were likely to be underutilised, unemployed or mismatched in jobs.
“Ironically, having the right level of experience – which goes hand-in-hand with age – to be eligible for skilled migration to Australia can undermine one’s effort in getting their skills recognised,” Cebulla said.
“The young are too young and the old are too old.”
Of nearly 190,000 skilled migrants in Australia, about 90,000 left after COVID-19 and did not return.
The research – When what you have is not enough: Acquiring Australian qualifications to overcome non-recognition of overseas skills, by George Tan and Andreas Cebulla – has been published by International Migration journal.