Anthony Albanese says he is “unashamedly” in favour of giving migrants the security that comes with a pathway to permanent residency.
Speaking at a press conference after the jobs and skills summit, the Prime Minister said Australia’s over-reliance on temporary labour had made the country more vulnerable and created equity issues.
It was announced at the summit earlier on Friday that Australia would take in 35,000 more migrants under its permanent migration program and speed up visas for foreign workers as a way to address the country’s critical labour and skills shortages.
Australia’s permanent migration cap will be lifted from 160,000 to a record 195,000 places this year and $36.1m will be spent on a surge workforce to clear a visa backlog of almost 1 million workers.
The regions will get 34,000 permanent migrants or 9000 more than the previous target, under the lifting of the cap. The state-sponsored spots will lift from 11,000 to 31,000.
The Albanese government will also extend post-study work rights for foreign graduates of Australian universities by two years in areas of skills shortages.
And it has also flagged an increase in the income thresholds for work visas, which currently require an annual minimum wage of $53,900, for the first time in almost a decade.
Mr Albanese said one of the lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic was that Australia needed to have “more security and more reliance upon ourselves”.
“And when people were asked to leave and when the borders were shut, that has exacerbated the skills shortages which are there,” he told reporters at Parliament House.
He said his government was yet to settle on the “mix” of temporary and permanent migration pathways provided to foreign workers.
“But I say very unashamedly that my starting point is in favour of giving people the security that comes with a path to permanent migration, a path to being an Australian citizen,” he said.
“My general approach is (that) we are with the exception of First Nations people a nation of migrants or descendants of migrants.”
Mr Albanese said Australia had a long history of people coming from overseas and “putting a stake down”.
“They’ve been able to get a mortgage, to have kids, have a family. All of that is impossible if it’s all temporary,” he said.
“ It makes no sense for example to bring in a nurse for two years, three years, and then see them leave, then try to find another nurse to take that place, have them train, have them adapt to Australian conditions as well.”
Mr Albanese said pathways to permanency would help Australia become a more attractive destination for migrants in order to compete in the global labour market for in-demand skills.
Speaking earlier at the summit, David Littleproud threw his support behind permanent migration pathways for people who move to regional Australia.
The Nationals leader said there seemed to be a “unity ticket” regarding the consensus on permanency for people who take agricultural or regional skills visas.
“We’ve had enough of them coming picking crops and passing through, we want them to live in regional Australia,” he said.
Opposition immigration spokesman Dan Tehan said Labor needed to provide detail about how the lifting of the skilled migrant cap would address Australia’s skills shortage.
“What skills will they target? What visas will be used? What additional resources will be provided and when will they be available?” he said in a statement.
“It will be Labor’s responsibility to ensure that planning, housing and infrastructure provision keep pace with their migration intake to ensure quality of life is maintained for all Australians.”
The boost to migration numbers is one of 36 immediate initiatives the Albanese government has committed to following the two-day jobs summit, which brought together representatives from unions, business and the public sector.