Designing Immigration Policy in a Time of Economic Uncertainty
On April 27th, GMF partnered with the Australian Embassy to host its seventh Embassy event “Designing Immigration Policy in a Time of Economic Uncertainty in Australia and the United States.” Australia was represented by four members of the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship: Todd Frew, Dr. Wendy Southern, Peter Vardos, and Jim Williams. Dr. Wendy Southern and Peter Vardos presented Australia’s current government practices and the resulting benefits to the economy while Tamar Jacoby, CEO of ImmigrationWorks, USA offered an insightful perspective from the American business community. With Dr. Pia Orrenius moderating, each speaker brought a sense of how certain visa programs and review systems affect the economy and the process of finding high-skilled workers to meet employer demands.
The discussion revealed the challenges of designing policies to recruit high-skilled immigrants and students. With Australia as a well-known example of success, the panel kept in mind that Australia’s increase in immigrants has decreased unemployment, lowered the average age of the workforce, and alleviated skill shortages. The panel kicked off by expanding on Australia’s recent immigration program reforms, discussing changes to the points system, reform of the temporary 457 visa, the creation of a new online system to link would-be skilled migrants and firms/regions (“Skillselect”), and reforms to raise the quality and integrity of the student visa program. Australia’s client services continued the discussion with an overview of its recent policies for initial interaction with migrants. The client service group is focusing on how to bring in the best applicants while also analyzing its own management of visas and overseas posts.
Tamar Jacoby responded with the U.S. perspective, focusing on the need of American businesses and U.S. visa policy to attract high-skilled immigrants. She pointed out that American businesses would reject a “government-driven” policy that determines employer demand for skilled migrants, such as exists in Australia. On the other hand, Tamar criticized the U.S.’s practice of letting in foreign students and temporary skilled workers and then not permitting them permanent residence; this creates bottlenecks of individuals waiting for permanent visas. She is optimistic about the possibilities for Congressional advance on skilled migration, now freed from the need to pass comprehensive immigration reform as a bloc. She proposes several “small fixes”: eliminate country caps, reform the diversity lottery visa, create new entrepreneurship visas, and move toward “conditional visas.”