Migration Points Test Review: Another Disaster in the Making?

Published in The Conversation on June 3, 2024, researchers from the Grattan Institute discussed the need for reforming Australia’s points-tested visas for skilled migrants. The paper emphasised the crucial role skilled migrants play in Australia’s prosperity by contributing to the economy, society, and productivity. While the points test, which evaluates migrants based on age, English proficiency, education, and work experience, is pivotal, it is fundamentally flawed.

Inadequate Rewarding of Skills

One of the most significant issues the paper raised is to prioritise migrants who contribute the most economically, however, the proposed high academic achievers, are not necessarily the best economic performers. Moreover, high earning levels are unlikely for newcomers to Australia, giving an advantage to those already in the country.

The paper’s authors argue that foreign students who attend Australian universities typically earn about 10% less than their domestically educated counterparts. It can be argued that this statement may be incorrect. Studying in Australia allows migrants to gain cultural and economic understanding and develop a network of peers. The professional year and the Temporary Graduate Visa should serve as transitions to the workforce, helping visa holders gain the experience and knowledge needed to transition into full-time employment. It is more likely that direct entrants will struggle to find employment in their field upon arrival. 

Limited Eligibility for Skilled Migrants

Permanent points-tested visas are currently limited to applicants qualified in occupations deemed in shortage, restricting access to a significant pool of global talent. Prospective migrants in over 200 other high-skilled occupations are ineligible for the Skilled Independent visa. This is a restriction that needs to be addressed. Eligibility should be open to all occupations on the ANZSCO list and assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Additionally, many migrants do not continue working in their nominated occupation long-term, often switching to other low-skilled jobs that are easily accessible and satisfy their financial requirements. An easy solution would be to require evidence of having worked in their nominated occupation for the required period at the time of Permanent Visa renewal or application for Citizenship.

Proposed Reforms to Enhance the System

The proposed reforms aim to reward skilled migrants who are more likely to succeed in Australia:

  1. Increase Maximum Points Available to 500: This substantial increase from the current 130 points would allow for a more nuanced assessment of applicants.
  2. Allocate More Points for Higher Degrees, Excellent English Skills, and Skilled Spouses: These factors are strong predictors of long-term success and should be more heavily weighted.
  3. Offer More Granular Points Based on Age: Age is a critical factor in a migrant’s ability to contribute long-term, and a more detailed points allocation system would reflect this.
  4. Abolish Bonus Points for Australian Study, Regional Study, Professional Year, and Specialist Education Qualifications: These factors have not proven to significantly enhance long-term earnings or employability.
  5. Points for High-Skilled Employment Experience and High-Paying Australian Work Experience: Offering points for only the first two years of high-skilled employment experience and rewarding high-paying work experience in Australia can better reflect the value these experiences bring.
  6. Open Points-Tested Visas to All High-Skill Occupations: Expanding eligibility would allow access to a broader range of skilled migrants.
  7. Set Minimum Points Floor and Guarantee Invitations for High Scorers: Setting a minimum points of 300 and guaranteeing an invitation to apply for applicants with at least 400 points would streamline the selection process.

The flaws in the proposed changes are self-evident. The focus on highly skilled, experienced, and young people with high levels of English proficiency creates fierce competition with the USA, UK, and Europe, countries that often have more to offer. Australia should focus on developing its own high-skilled workforce through higher education and foreign exchange programs and attract skilled workers who will contribute to the economy’s development.

While changes are necessary, changes to the points-tested visa system must be carefully considered, by focusing on a balanced approach that values both high-skilled migrants, development of local talent, and skilled workforce.