Saturday, 30 April 2005 02:00

ACS calls for reduction in skills immigration, amid legal stoush

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The Australian Computer Society has called for a decrease in the ICT skills migration program and an investigation into the 457 temporary visa program, while embroiled in a legal fracas with labour market consultant Bob Kinnaird.

The Kinnaird issue threatened to overshadow the central theme of the ACS media briefing, which were the professional body's recommendations to stem the negative impact of immigration on local ICT jobs. The ACS recommendations were based on a report by Kinnaird, which the ACS refuses to publish in its entirety because Kinnaird's recommendations differ from its own. The ACS has made two key recommendations.

Firstly, the intake of recent ICT graduates through the General Skilled Migration Program should be substantially reduced until:

o the market can absorb the level of ICT graduates from Australian universities;
o the intake to ICT courses stops declining and begins to increase;
o the unemployment rate for ICT professionals falls to levels in line with that of all other professionals in Australia.

Secondly, DIMIA should publish complete and transparent data on all 457 visa holders in ICT jobs with regard to their skill sets, salaries and employers, as well as setting a minimum salary threshold at the prevailing market rate for each ICT speciality.

ACS president Edward Mandla said that there are 5000 457 visa holders in ICT jobs and implied that the system is being abused. He said: "The 457 visa enables corporations to bring in the best and brightest people to get Australians up to speed.These should be people with skills in SAP integration and so on and you would expect their salary range to be $150,000 plus. However, in the last 12 months the minimum salary for 457 visa holders was raised from $35,000 to $47,000, yet local programmers earn $65,000 to $85,000."

According to Mandla, 80% of 457 visa holders in ICT are under 35 years of age and 44% are under 30, which does not fit the profile of highly skilled high-end ICT professionals. "About 45% of 457 holders are programmers and we don't need programmers," he said. "We don't know who is sponsoring these people or what projects they're working on. There are no skills testing and no labour market testing requirements."

The ACS confirmed during the media conference today that Kinnaird, who produced a report for the ACS on the impact of ICT skills immigration on the local labour market, has issued an order through his legal representative preventing the ACS from publishing his report. "Mr Kinnaird's solicitor has written to us asking that we not publish the report," an ACS representative said at the conference.

The dispute is over a single page containing Kinnaird's conclusions and recommendations, based on his study into the effect of immigration on the ICT labour market. Kinnaird told us that the ACS wanted to publish his report, minus the pages containing his conclusions and instead substituting its own recommendations.

"The draft they showed me a few weeks ago contained different conclusions from those in my report. I refused to let my name be put on a document that does not contain my work," Kinnaird said.

The ACS defended its decision not to publish the report saying that it was willing to publish it except for a single page. That page is the one containing Kinnaird's recommendations. "Our view is that any recommendations that consultants give us are private," a spokesman said. "Kinnaird's recommendations differ from ours and because we hold joint copyright we have to agree on the final form to be published."

Our sources tell us that the main areas of disagreement involve Kinnaird's recommendations for the ACS to raise its academic and English language requirements for foreign students to gain accreditation. In addition, Kinnaird is critical of the ACS for pushing to become a gatekeeper for assessing the skills of 457 visa holders.

Our view is that the ACS, which plans to take its recommendations on immigration to DIMIA within the next two weeks, is certainly making all the right noises. However, it is not at all clear as to why the body continues to suppress an important report by an industry expert just because it contains a page of recommendations that it disagrees with. Surely it is exactly this type of report that would stimulate debate and make the Government sit up and take notice.


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Stan Beer

 

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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