Skilled migrants who have been granted visas under the general skilled migration visa categories are achieving significantly higher levels of labour market success than ever before, the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Senator Amanda Vanstone and the Minister for Education, Science and Training, the Hon Julie Bishop MP announced today.

A major evaluation of these categories has confirmed good results and has also identified some areas where targeting to the needs of the labour market can be enhanced.

The independent evaluation of the general skilled migration categories has been conducted by three of Australia’s leading immigration experts, Dr Bob Birrell, Associate Professor Lesleyanne Hawthorne and Professor Sue Richardson.

Australia already has the best skilled migration programme in the world, but we cannot afford to stand still, Minister Vanstone said.

Our competitors are busily copying us, and new players are entering the game. We are all driven by demography and the need to address an increasing range of skill shortages.

To keep ahead of the game and ensure that our migration programme is delivering the maximum benefits to our community, we are continuously fine-tuning our selection methodologies.

The key aim of our skilled programme is to select migrants who will find skilled jobs quickly. The evaluation has confirmed categorically that good English and relevant work experience are essential to achieving this result. My recent consultations with Australian business have also strongly supported this finding. Minister Vanstone said.

To give migrants the best chance of success in the Australian labour market the Government has decided to:

* increase the base level of English language proficiency which must be demonstrated by applicants for general skilled migration visas
* increase the allocation of bonus points to applicants who achieve English language scores at above the base level
* place greater emphasis on skilled work experience as a factor in the points test.

This means that many former overseas students, who are currently exempt from work experience requirements when applying for general skilled migration, will require some skilled work experience in order to qualify for skilled migration. The Australian Government will provide temporary visa mechanisms which will enable such students to gain work experience
in Australia.

Former overseas students are a very welcome part of our skilled migration programme. Any changes we make will be consistent with that view and in fact are likely to present new and broader opportunities for overseas students and Australia’s international education industry. Minister Vanstone said.

Minister Bishop said, I welcome these new initiatives to support Government working with industry to enable international students to succeed in the Australian labour market. Australia needs to ensure that we are continuing to provide a quality education to international students to retain our competitive advantage. Other countries are recognising the benefits of international education in terms of the cultural, social, economic and diplomatic benefits it brings and we need to stay ahead of the game.

The benefits of international education should not be underestimated, Minister Bishop said.

The links that international education establishes between individuals, institutions, economies, governments, cultures and religions has the potential to bring Australia closer to the rest of the world, building better trade, prosperity and harmony.

Ministers Bishop and Vanstone said their departments will work collaboratively to undertake widespread consultations on the details of the changes in coming months, with a view to implementation in the second half of 2006 and in the first half of 2007.

An electronic copy of the evaluation report can be found on the DIMA website by clicking here (2MB PDF) . A hard copy can be obtained by calling the Research and Statistics Section on (02) 6264-2794.