“The average base salary for a skilled temporary visa holder is quite high at $95,000, meaning these workers are unlikely to undercut local employment terms and conditions,” the organisation’s chief executive, Melinda Cilento, said.
“In addition, they are a small group, with temporary skilled migrants of working age accounting for less than one per cent of Australia’s labour force.”
Some of the findings are likely to meet with a cool reception from the ACTU, which argued in April that skills shortages should be redressed by permanent, not temporary migration, because temporary visa holders were “easily exploited”.
There are two million people on some form of temporary visa in Australia, a figure that includes students, working holiday-makers, backpackers and New Zealanders as well as skilled workers.
Temporary migrants contributed 71 per cent of the growth in net migration in 2016-2017, amounting to 45 per cent of all population growth in that year, the report finds. Over half of all permanent skills visas were granted to applicants already onshore under the temporary skilled stream.
The report finds that temporary migration has been “particularly responsive” to local economic conditions, with the number of temporary skilled visa holders in the mining industry, for instance, doubling to around 6000 between 2010 and 2013, before receding to around 1200 today.
Citing one pinch-point, it says 18,000 more cyber security workers will be required in the next seven years, against the current supply of 500 graduates a year.
CEDA wants a UK-style independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise on skills shortages, which it says would improve transparency and trust in the system.
The report also urges changing the point at which employers have to pay a visa nomination levy of up to $1800 for a skilled worker so that payment is made at the time of approval, not nomination, to avoid business paying unnecessary fees.
CEDA also wants an easier path for employees of multinational companies to transfer to Australia, and for the Productivity Commission to review the system every three to five years.
The TSS 482 visa was introduced in March last year, in place of the controversial 457 visa, previously issued for four years, but which became a path to permanent migration.
Ms Cilento says the abolition of the 457 visa took business by surprise. “The broad consensus is that this is making it more difficult to bring people in, it has definitely reduced the likelihood that people coming in as temporary skilled migrants will transfer to permanent residency” she said.
“If, as our analysis shows, they are not adversely impacting the local labour market, and they are filling genuine skills gaps, and if they are the best and brightest in the world and they have come and proven their worth in the workplace, why wouldn’t you want them to transition to permanent residency?”
She cited the experience of medical device manufacturer Cochlear which used temporary skilled migration for a decade to overcome engineering shortages in advanced manufacturing.
The union movement says a recent Senate inquiry found rules were “short-changing locals and allowing business to game the system to its own advantage, depressing wages and exploiting visitors to our country”.
An ACTU spokesman said it would reserve a response to the CEDA recommendations until it had seen the full report.
Deborah Snow is a senior writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.
Lucy Cormack is a crime reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.