April 30, 2021

Australia’s skilled migration program: second submission

Australia’s skilled migration program

IRU Submission


The Innovative Research Universities recommends that the Joint Standing Committee on Migration should:

  • endorse the link between attracting international students and attracting skilled migrants. The two sets of policies have significant natural overlap and should align rather than operate independently;
  • highlight the fact that the vast majority (84%) of international students leave Australia after their studies to help counter the misperception that international study is being used as an easy pathway to permanent immigration; and
  • explore the dynamics of the university academic and professional staff workforce to consider how Australia can ensure universities can select the best candidates from a world market and support Australians compete in the world market.


The review of Australia’s skilled migration program in the era of Covid-19 is a major opportunity to consider the place of national migration policies, when seemingly unstoppable globalisation forces clash with the impact of a global pandemic and closed national borders.

Australia’s immigration policies tend to focus on immigrants who remain in the country, with less focus on people who choose to leave Australia again and the growing number of people who move across multiple nation-states through their lives for career and family reasons.

Australia’s universities are greatly impacted by the ability and willingness of people to move across international borders:

  • 23% of IRU students in 2019 were international students, whether studying in Australia, online from home or attending university campuses outside of Australia. These students are mobile in person or mind, seeking the best education they can achieve before pursuing a life and career in Australia, their home country or elsewhere.
  • The university academic workforce has always been part of a global market. Academics follow their research interests around the world, with experiences in multiple countries considered a natural part of an academic career. This is particularly true for the research workforce: 38% of doctoral research students are international and 28% of Australia’s PhD qualified workforce obtained their PhD overseas.

Within the confines of a national migration policy, IRU urges the Joint Standing Committee to recognise the natural links between education policies that encourage education providers to seek students from around the world and migration policies that seek the best-qualified people to migrate to Australia. Attracting high-quality international students to the country is an effective way of reducing future skill gaps in the Australian workforce.

IRU also urges the Committee to explore the dynamics of the international academic workforce as part of its inquiry, exploring what policies and incentives can be used to achieve the research and education outcomes Australia needs.