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Skilled migrants: Australia’s new list sparks debate over priorities

A storm is brewing over Australia’s draft list of priority skills for migrants. The inclusion of yoga instructors and dog handlers, while some trades remain under consideration, has sparked outrage from the opposition and industry leaders.

The federal opposition has criticized the inclusion of yoga instructors and dog handlers on a draft list of priority migrant skills amid a housing crisis, calling it nonsensical. While trades such as plumbers and bricklayers are still under consideration, the government struggles to meet its goal of building 1.2 million new homes by the decade’s end due to a skills shortage.

Jobs and Skills Australia has included wellness professionals on its “confident on list” for a skills migration stream. Opposition Leader Peter Dutton condemned this decision, arguing that the wrong professions are being prioritized. He stated, “The government is prioritizing yoga teachers over carpenters, bricklayers, and other tradespeople. It’s nonsensical and a clear disaster,” he said during a press conference in Canberra.

Dutton emphasized the need for more tradespeople, noting the rising costs of home construction and the difficulty in finding builders. “Tradespeople should be at the top of our list to help curb the dramatic increase in building costs and address the shortage of available builders,” he added.

Denita Wawn, CEO of Master Builders Australia, expressed confusion over the draft proposal, saying, “We can’t build homes with wellness instructors. We need tradies, and they must be on the definite list for skilled migration.” She criticized the focus on tertiary education at the expense of vocational training and highlighted the country’s competition with the UK and Canada for skilled migrants, stressing the need for a streamlined system.

The federal budget in May allocated $1.8 million to expedite skills assessments for about 1,900 potential migrants with qualifications in construction and housing. Skills Minister Brendan O’Connor acknowledged the deep shortfalls across the labor market and emphasized the need for more support for apprentices. He criticized the opposition’s stance, quoting employer bodies that labeled Dutton’s budget reply as “a momentous act of economic self-harm.”

The draft priority skills list, which will determine eligibility for the new Skills in Demand Visa replacing the Temporary Skills Shortage Visa in late 2024, includes “Other Sports Coach or Instructor (Wushu Martial Arts and Yoga Instructor Only)” and “Dog Handler or Trainer.” “Jewellery Designer” also made the list.

Despite the urgent housing supply crisis, trades such as painters, roof tilers, bricklayers, and stonemasons were placed on a draft list requiring “more consultation.” A government source indicated that some trades listed for further consultation had histories of migrant abuse, necessitating additional investigation to protect new arrivals. However, Master Builders Australia argued that there are existing rules to protect workers from exploitation.

Electricians specializing in automotive, lineswork, equipment, and instruments made the cut, along with industrial engineers, carpenters, environmental consultants, building inspectors, surveyors, welders, and sheet metal workers.

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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