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Hold skilled migration until SA economy improves

By Malcolm King - posted Thursday, 26 February 2015


Far from being the land of new opportunities touted by the State Government, new migrants are finding South Australia riven with high unemployment.

More than 15,000 permanent migrants settle in South Australia every year, although not all stay. Over the past five years, 9,265 skilled migrants were successfully nominated by the State Government. Many also bring their families.

We need a five-year moratorium on state-nominated migration as we're creating a burgeoning underclass of migrants – a 'precariat' of marginalised unemployed and under employed contract workers. The term comes from Guy Standing's book, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (2011), which examined the rise of an emerging class, characterised by inequality and job insecurity.

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According to the ABS, in January 2015 there were 54,442 unemployed South Australians (born in Australia) and another 15,651 unemployed people who were born overseas. While some of these may be long-term immigrants who have lost their jobs, the bulk of them arrived in the last five years.

Half of Adelaide's 16,000 jobless families live in Adelaide's northern suburbs.

The state government nominates migrants if they have the skills and experience needed on the skilled occupation list. They must stay in SA for two years. Neither the skilled occupation list nor the graduate occupation list bears any resemblance to local employment potential. According to Commonwealth Department of Employment, some of these professions and trades are in serious decline.

Why would a state government spin SA's charms to people in England, India and China, when locals can't get a job here? The answer is – money.

In a broad-based and diverse modern economy, migrants pump cash into the state for rental accommodation, schools, food and utilities. They may take six months to a year to get a job and, when they do, they become 'cash generators'. Migrants are a boon when the economy is going well for a raft of social and economic reasons.

But in a dysfunctional old economy, this 'cash cow' soon dries up once the migrants realise crippling unemployment is endemic. They can't access Newstart for two years, so they live frugally off their savings. They become the new poor – a disillusioned and disenfranchised 'precariat'.

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That's why you have Indian and Pakistani migrants with Masters degrees in IT and engineering working as taxi drivers, cleaners or in telemarketing. What a waste of human potential. The State Government is sentencing highly skilled workers and their families to penury, as we teeter precariously on the cusp of mass unemployment in South Australia.

I'm strongly pro-migration but these are exceptional circumstances. It's too easy to spin the state like this: 'South Australia has plenty to offer migrants such as a low cost of living, a great climate, affordable housing and increased vibrancy in the city.' That might be true if you want to replace your life with something as facile as a 'lifestyle'.

For the workers at Holden's and its supply chain, Caroma, Bradken, ACI, Campbell Arnotts and thousands of other production workers, the future has little to do with lifestyle and everything to do with survival.

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This article was first published in InDaily



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About the Author

Malcolm King works in generational workforce change. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. He also runs a professional writing business called Republic.

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