Australia’s migration intake has dropped to 160,000 — the lowest in a decade — as the Morrison government launches a global hunt for “exceptionally skilled” recruits to drive productivity across the country.

Australia’s migration intake has dropped to 160,000 — the lowest in a decade — as the Morrison government launches a global hunt for “exceptionally skilled” recruits to drive productivity across the country.

After warnings last month from industry leaders about a skills shortage that could threaten the delivery of an unprecedented pipeline of infrastructure projects, Immigration Minister David Coleman will outline efforts to combat employment woes in regional Australia.

Mr Coleman, who is driving the Global Talent Independent program with 5000 places set aside for the “best and brightest” foreign workers, said it was crucial to plug employment gaps nationwide.


‘We are making jobs great again’
The Australian can reveal that 160,323 permanent visas were granted under the 2018-19 migration program.

The permanent migration program, which reached highs of 190,000 under Labor governments, will be capped at an annual rate of 160,000 over the next four years, and includes a provision for 23,000 regional visas annually.

As a result of the cap, the government expects the number of permanent migrants to be even lower over the coming four years. In 2012-13 and 2013-14, the permanent migration program hit 190,000 and stayed above 183,000 between 2011-12 and 2016-17.

Mr Coleman, who will release the 2018-19 figures in regional Victoria on Thursday, said the government’s “population plan” was aimed at easing “pressure on the big capitals while supporting the growth of these smaller cities and regions that want more people”.

“We’ve reduced the number of places under the migration program from 190,000 to 160,000 for the coming year,” Mr Coleman said. “This year we’ve also dedicated 23,000 places for regional skilled migrants and announced two new regional visas to help fill some of the tens of thousands of job vacancies in regional Australia.

“We’re directing migration to those smaller cities and regional areas that are crying out for more people and those regional economies that simply cannot fill all available jobs with local workers.”

Mr Coleman, who will meet dairy farmers in the Warrnambool region alongside the region’s MP, Education Minister Dan Tehan, said a key focus was ensuring that regional centres, which have reported up to 60,000 job vacancies, can source workers.

In June, the government granted Warrnambool a designated area migration agreement, aimed at tackling chronic labour short­ages in regional areas.

Home Affairs Department officials will be deployed to Shanghai, Singapore, Washington and Dubai this week and arrive in Santiago later this month on a mission to attract high-end migrants to Australia. Officials will also scout recruits from institutions including MIT, Stanford and Oxford and across the agtech, ­fintech and artificial intelligence sectors.

In March, two months before the federal election, Scott Morrison announced the government would cap permanent migration at 160,000 for the next four years. “What Australians need and our economy needs is a balanced and responsible migration plan,” the Prime Minister said.

Following the announcement, he said the cap would lead to ­increased places for employer-nominated skills visas and “opportunities for more regional visas”.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox last month wrote to Mr Morrison detailing how ­increasing demand for skilled workers was occurring as apprenticeship and traineeship numbers fell to a 10-year low.

Mr Willox urged the government to act quickly to improve the quality of the nation’s training system to help deliver what he ­described as an infrastructure investment program bigger in scale than the mining boom that peaked between 2012 and 2015.

The new data reveals a significant increase in employer-­sponsored visas in 2018-19 and a fall in general skilled migration visas. This was because of ­employer-sponsored visas being based on ­active job placements, while skilled visas were issued where an individual met a requirement but there was no certainty of an immediate job.

To fill regional places, the government is introducing two new dedicated visas, which will come into effect in November.

The regional visas will require holders to demonstrate they have lived and worked in a regional area for three years before becoming eligible for permanent residency.

In addition to the Warrnambool migration agreement, similar programs have been put in place in the Northern Territory, the city of Kalgoorlie, Adelaide city and regional South Australia, the Orana region on NSW and far north Queensland.