NZ v Oz: Australia in IT skills grab

Australia hopes to boost its intake of IT workers by two-thirds this year through a raft of immigration initiatives.

Australia hopes to boost its intake of IT workers by two-thirds this year through a raft of immigration initiatives.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock's announcement of the latest proposals follow other measures aimed at easing the country’s IT skills shortage - estimated at 30,000 vacancies.

The changes come as New Zealand also introduces new polices aimed at attracting skilled IT staff.

Michel Hedley, corporate relations manager at the Australian Information Industry Association, whose 360 members cover its IT and telecomms industries, backs Ruddock’s view that Australia is “at the forefront of international competition to attract migrants with ICT skills".

“The Australian immigration system for IT managers and programmers is probably the most competitive in the world. There is no labour market testing and no quota. People with IT qualifications get priority as well,” says Hedley.

The IT industry is fairly involved with government, he says, and AIIA leaders have brought major changes to business migration rules. Last week Hedley gave a talk to immigration officials in Perth about the needs of the IT industry.

Australia typically attracts 10,500 IT managers and professionals a year, including New Zealanders and ex-pats returning home. It hopes to lift that total to 17,000.

“Our position is that it is better to grow your own but we recognise the global nature of people to move around,” says Hedley.

The changes involve a ministerial direction ordering all immigration workers to give ICT professionals priority for processing under the long stay temporary and business skills categories. ICT jobs will also be regarded as “key” for long-term temporary entry.

Immigration department business centres across Australia are also developing a skills matching internet database to help employers find skilled workers from overseas, and are streamlining health and character assessments to help quick entry for temporary business visa applicants.

The Australian government will also let overseas ICT students apply for visas while in Australia instead of having to apply from their home countries.

“As a result of additional efforts to streamline processing, a quarter of skilled migrants and a quarter of temporary business [long stay] visa holders entering Australia are IT professionals,” says Ruddock.

Last month, the New Zealand government announced plans to increase the number of skilled and business migrants from 17,000 to 27,000 a year. Nothing covered IT specifically for permanent immigration, but the government says it hopes the changes would help IT and other industries.

Government help for IT help centred on work permit rules, such as ending labour market testing for IT vacancies, simplifying and speeding up work permit processing. For the future, it would consider linking work permits with residency and other unspecified measure to ease the entry of skilled IT workers into New Zealand.

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