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Australia seeks skilled worker migrants

Posted on November 29, 2010
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Australia’s Finance Minister Penny Wong wants to see an increase in immigration to meet the demand for skilled workers amid continued political debate over the sustainability of population growth at a time of near full employment.

“We need to increase the labor force,” Wong said in an interview Friday. “We’re facing a whole range of capacity constraints we need to deal with now.”

Australia, with a population of 22 million, needs to attract more skilled migrants to sustain its growing economy as demand for workers in high-growth industries such as mining and financial services increases. But the arrival of more migrants is posing a challenge for the Australian government and helping to push the cost of living higher in major urban centers, such as Sydney and Perth, where new arrivals and those chasing the mining boom most often settle.

Sydney alone added almost 24,000 migrants in the past five years, according to official population data, putting upward pressure on house prices.

Canberra earlier this month announced plans to overhaul the points system used to approve new migrants, targeting those workers needed to fuel an economic boom for the country’s natural resources led by resurgent demand from China.

Unlike many developed nations still grappling with double-digit unemployment rates, Australia’s jobless rate is expected to fall to 4.75% by the second quarter of next year, according to government forecasts.

At the same time, the center-left Labor government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard is under pressure from some quarters to curb immigration. The political backlash against a perceived uptick in illegal migration emerged as an issue during the August national election campaign.

“The challenge in the last term was to avert recession, the challenge in this term is to manage growth,” said Wong.

Business groups argue political point-scoring over a small number of asylum speakers is clouding more pressing and complex issues, such as how infrastructure and resources can be managed to account for Australia’s labor needs and a growing work force. Each boat arrival has spurred populist rhetoric and been used as a platform by some politicians to push for curbs on migration more generally.

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