Australia’s skilled migration program

Skilled migration, a mainstay of Australia’s economic and population policies, should be a win-win.

Federal and state governments are looking for migrants to meet skills shortfalls and keep the economy growing. Migrants are looking for a better lifestyle and economic opportunities.

But our research suggests the skilled migration program is failing to achieve its full economic potential, dashing personal dreams in the process. Many skilled migrants are simply not finding the opportunities they anticipated.


Our survey of more than 1,700 skilled migrants living in South Australia found 53% felt they were not utilising their skills and abilities, with 44% working in a job different to what they nominated in their visa application.

About 15% reported being unemployed at the time of the survey or for most of their time in Australia – double the South Australian jobless rate. This was despite having skills deemed by government planners to be in short supply.

Our results indicate a big mismatch between the expectations of new migrants and the reality of the labour market – in the jobs available and in employer expectations. In short, the skilled migration program simply isn’t working the way it is supposed to.

Skilled migration trends

The majority of Australia’s immigration intake is intended to benefit the economy. Out of about 178,000 permanent visas granted in 2017–18, about 111,000 were for migrants with skills. (A further 64,000 skilled migrants were granted temporary visas.)

Of those 111,000 visas, about 35,000 were employer-sponsored, meaning visa holders had a guaranteed job. About 7,000 were business investment visas, meaning migrants were bringing enough money to employ themselves and others.

The majority – about 68,000 – were part of the General Skilled Migration (GSM) program, based on having skills deemed in short supply. The federal government’s “Skilled Occupation List” now covers more than 670 occupations, from “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker” to “Zoologist”.

Aspects of the GSM program are designed to attract migrants to areas other than Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. One way it does this is through the State-Specific Regional Migration scheme, where state or territory governments can nominate a migrant for a visa. The scheme requires living in a defined area within that state or territory (for at least two years).

In 2017-18, 27,400 of the 68,000 points-tested visas were state/territory-nominated visas – an increase from less than 24,000 the previous year. Thus these visas, channelling migrants towards the smaller cities and regional areas, are an increasingly significant part to the skilled migration intake.

South Australian experiences

Our research, a joint project by the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies and the Hugo Centre for Migration and Population Research, focused on the experience of migrants nominated for a visa by the South Australian government.

Between 2010 and 2014, some 7,500 migrants came to South Australia on such visas. Our survey collected information about the employment experiences on more than 2,000 of them (culled down for various reasons). We did in-depth interviews with 20 participants.

In our survey sample nearly 70% had professional qualifications. This compares to just 20% of the general South Australian population. There was also a high rate of technical and trades skills.

Despite this, success in getting a job matching their qualifications was mixed. The unemployment rate, as noted, was twice the state average. A further 15% reported being underemployed, working fewer hours than they would have liked.

For those who found a job, 44% reported not being in the occupation in which they had experience, and 54% said they were in a role that did not fully utilise their qualifications.


In the interviews we did, many expressed frustration and disappointment about how things had turned out. Given the expense and ordeal of obtaining a GSM visa and then moving to Australia, many had expected the visa would lead automatically to a job.

There was also a widely held view that Australian employers discriminated against hiring anyone who didn’t have have local experience. Migrants thus found themselves in a classic Catch-22 situation – they couldn’t get local experience because they didn’t have local experience.


Other perceived barriers were that the jobs simply didn’t exist, that employers did not recognise overseas qualifications, or were reluctant to hire them because they were foreign and lacked fluency in English.

A clear disconnect

These findings point to a clear problem with the General Skilled Migration Program.

Migrants are being drawn to Australia on the basis their skills are needed, but many are finding employers reluctant to hire them. The whole methodology that underpins the program – with state and territory sponsorships that implicitly encourage aspiring migrants – needs to be revisited.

This is effectively acknowledged by the South Australian government, which warns that “State nomination does not guarantee employment in South Australia and applicants must compete in the local job market”.



Scaling up skills in migration

Migration through overseas employment has a remarkable impact on the national economy of Bangladesh and the socio-economic life of the country people. It helps in reducing poverty and unemployment as well as in improving the economy through remittances.

In general, two types of migration take place from Bangladesh. One is to industrialised countries as permanent residents or immigrants and the other to the Middle East and South Asian countries as short-term circular migration.

Each year, more than 2 million young people enter the workforce in Bangladesh. Local employment in the formal and informal sectors is around 1 million and on an average 0.6 million workers go abroad for overseas employment (source: LFS-BBS and BMET). So, overseas employment is very important in regard to ensuring safety, security and rights of the workers and above all for remittance earnings.

Since a large number of employment opportunities prevail abroad, the matter needs to be carefully analysed to accrue the fruits beneficially. There is criticism that Bangladeshi workers pay exorbitant migration costs and are weak in protecting their rights due to the lack of skill, work ability, knowledge and education. This criticism is, to some extent, true.

The nexus of overseas employment for Bangladesh is also complicated. Many actors are involved in the process and of course one of the main actors is the aspirant migrant worker who needs to be aware of the different aspects of the employment process. It is heard again and again that Bangladesh is not sending skilled workers and thus remittances are really disproportionate to the number of migrants in comparison to other countries.

According to the BMET database, presently 1.2 million Bangladeshi workers are working in 174 countries. Also, 43.55% skilled, 20.36% semi-skilled and 28.15% less-skilled workers had been employed abroad in 2019. These statistics tell that skilled migration has increased from the previous years in comparison with less-skilled migration. But the categorisation on the skill levels is most important on the basis of occupation level and profession. It should be supported by recognised tools of the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB). The National Skill Development Authority (NSDA) may also be entrusted with this responsibility as the apex body of administering the skill development training system of Bangladesh.

It is commonly known that skills, knowledge and education are important driving forces of economic growth and social development of a country. The country which has a greater strength of skill and educated manpower, she can suitably meet the challenges, scopes and prospects in the global discourse. So, it is very important to cater to the skilled migration issues for overseas employment. Bangladeshi workers are still struggling with skill, education and capability with their competitors, and getting lower wages which eventually affects the remittances.

It is also evident that skilled workers will not pay excess money as migration cost which is a major concern of the recruiting agents in Bangladesh. Skilled workers are also aware of their rights in workplaces. Unfortunately this is not happening in case of Bangladeshi workers and there are hence miles to go for this.

The Technical Training Centers (TTC) under the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET) are responsible for providing training to produce skilled workers that are going abroad. Apart from that, there are some private training centers and different government training institutions also providing training for them. Some recruiting agencies are running some training centers and provide necessary training. But, there is no common curriculum for those training courses followed by all training institutions and the proper monitoring is absent by a competent authority. Moreover there was no initiative taken to acquire mutual recognition of the training curriculum and certification of different trades with labour receiving countries.

The demand of unskilled workers is decreasing and demand for skilled manpower is enhancing, specifically in the post COVID 19 situation. There will be a growing global demand particularly for health technicians, medical equipment technicians, etc. A study report stated that there is employment scope for 5 million workers in the biomedical equipment sector around the world. Preparations can begin from now to create a skilled workforce in this regard. Medical technician training can be provided countrywide ensuring international curriculum is followed.

To meet this opportunity, a comprehensive plan for skill development is an earnest necessity with international certification. Another approach to facilitate the employment of Bangladeshi workers would be mutual recognition of skill certification with the countries of destination (CoD). But all these efforts will be successful only when the training standard of the existing skill training system is upgraded massively to meet the international level.

One major challenge is how to ensure that a migrant’s skills in one country are recognised in another. The Mutually Recognized Skills Framework (MRS) is the answer to that question by smoothing out the negotiations between countries and facilitating the movement and employment of qualified and certified personnel. Development partners may be approached to assist in this regard to establish well-functioned mutual skills’ recognition mechanisms. This approach will promote the mobility of skilled labour through the MRS to accelerate the economic integration between Bangladesh with the CoDs. It will include i) development of competency-based curriculums and learning materials in accordance with skills/competency standards, ii) development of a communication plan to improve the awareness of the employers on the skilled manpower availability in Bangladesh, iii) upgrading of training programme to strengthen the capacities of the workers, iv) providing vocational guidance and career counselling to choose appropriate skill suitable for the migrant to adopt proper employment and v) organizing training to encourage Techno-preneurship and Entrepreneurship to the aspirant migrant workers for developing the capability of global citizenship.

Bangladeshi migrant workers have suffered most due to the worldwide spread of Covid-19. That is why it is necessary to take some steps through appropriate re-integration of them socially and economically also. This needs to provide retraining, up-skilling and enhanced re-skilling training to returning migrants.

Presently BMET is providing skill training through 70 Training Centers all over the country with an expansion project of setting up 41 more centers at upazila level. The training standard and certification should be upgraded and accredited with international level of affiliation. Language and other soft skills should also be associated with due diligence.

A common observation from employers of the CoD is that there are skill mis-matches and skill gaps with the acquired skills by the Bangladeshi workers which is the major impediment of employment by them. This also causes the US $6b remittance outflow from Bangladesh by only 200,000 foreign workers working in different sectors. BMET conducted a study on the demand of skilled workers in 53 countries. In regard to plan for the supply of the workforce to the prospective employment market, the recommendations of the study report may be implemented.

Remittance is a major benefit of the migration arena and this figure was 18.4 billion USD in 2019. This contributes about 7% to the GDP of the country. Sending more skilled workers can enhance it substantially. To ensure the recruitment of skilled workers in overseas employment, there should be an automated system of dispatch of workers. It may be web-based digitalised system in which both the Bangladesh and countries of destination would be able to track the status in the entire process of recruitment.

To achieve these objectives the major challenges in improvement of the skill training standard are i) Teachers and their upgrading training, ii) modern equipment and iii) proper industry linkage. Bangladesh is committed to send more skilled workers in the international labour market. So it is essential to arrange recognition of the courses with the TVET authority of specific destination countries. It would be aimed at facilitating the recruitment of appropriate skilled manpower for the specific job requirement.

Kazi Abul Kalam is joint secretary to the Government of Bangladesh and Md. Nurul Islam is former director of the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET).


Policy Talk on “Overseas employment in the post-pandemic world: Challenges and Prospects for Bangladesh”

A Policy Talk titled “Overseas employment in the post-pandemic world: Challenges and Prospects for Bangladesh” is going to be held at 8 PM to 9 PM (BST) on September 07, 2020. EMK Center Dhaka and Future of Work Lab of Aspire to Innovate (a2i) Programme are jointly going to organized the event.

Anyone concerned or interested can join the event by registering to the following link:

Facebook event link: