The federal government must overhaul the skilled migration program to prevent Australia from losing its engineering capability.

In its submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration Inquiry, Engineers Australia warned the current system is not working.

Engineers Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans said Australia is desperate for skilled migration to fill the gap between the demand for engineers and what universities and the local market can supply.

Evans said that even when overseas-born engineers arrive in Australia they are not employed.

She said overseas-born engineers experience higher unemployment (7.6 per cent) than their Australian-born peers (3.7 per cent), and only 40.9 per cent end up working in an engineering role.

The submission said attempts to use the skilled migration program to boost employment and productivity in regional Australia are also failing.

“Certain visa classes require the holder to remain in a regional location for two to four years, yet most engineering roles are situated in metropolitan areas,” she said.

“With fewer suitable roles available, migrants can find themselves forced to take on employment out of their engineering occupation and may be lost to the profession forever.”

Engineers Australia has urged the government to explore the reasons for different employment outcomes among migrants.

“There is a serious mismatch between the objectives of the skilled migration program and what is being achieved in the community. Unless research is done and changes are made, we will continue to fail both migrants and employers, and put Australia’s engineering capability and future economic growth at risk,” Evans said.

Submission recommendations including refining the program to make it more specific to attract the right people.

Examine the barriers to full and meaningful employment of skilled migrants including more research commissioned by the government.

Evans said the migration skills list need to be revised including a review of the points-based system.

She said there should also be a review of the regional sponsorship program and examine every industrial sector that relies on skilled migration for a sustainable labour force.

The recommendations are supported by a recent report from the Committee for Economic Development in Australia (CEDA) which found Australia is under-utilising the skills of permanent migrants.

The report found nearly a quarter of permanent migrants in Australia are working in a job beneath their skill level.

CEDA CEO, Melinda Cilento, said recalibrating the system to improve skilled migration outcomes is all the more important coming out of the COVID-19 recession, as employers cannot find workers with the skills they need due to closed international borders.

CEDA estimates that the skills mismatch occurring among skilled migrants is costing the equivalent of $1.25 billion over 12 months in forgone wages.

The report stipulates that this is a conservative estimate as there are no reliable tools to measure how much longer the mismatch occurs beyond the initial 18 months of arrival.

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