Human Capital and Immigration… Down Under

Apr 4, 2012

The AP reports that Australia is overhauling some of its immigration procedures in order to welcome skilled immigrants from…. the United States!

Australia is hoping to lure more American plumbers, electricians and construction workers to be employed on Outback projects in the burgeoning mining and gas industries by changing how their skills are assessed.

Currently U.S. skilled workers can wait in Australia for months before they are issued with licenses that allow them to work in a trade and they face the risk of being rejected if their skills don't meet Australian standards.

The government said Monday that the system will be overhauled this month so that their skills can be assessed in the United States, giving applicants certainty that they can work in their trade when they arrive.

Australia will also host its first ever skills expo in the United States to explain what jobs are available and how Americans can apply.

Australia is trying to get ahead of a global curve. The Aussies have figured out that the competition for talent around the world is heating up.  Businesses need human capital – people with skills, know-how, and drive to help them grow their businesses and respond to market demands. So the Aussies are changing the rules that regulate entry into the country to make sure they get the talent they need.

The U.S. could learn a lesson here.  For too long we have made it difficult for skilled immigrants and entrepreneurs to come here and stay here (for more on this, see my report on The Human Capital Imperative). We’ve done this despite ample evidence that skilled immigrants create jobs for the native born and press the accelerator on economic growth (see Madeline Zavodny’s research for more on the job creation that comes with skilled immigrants). 

The U.S. could take a page out of Australia’s playbook.  We need to understand that in a world where labor is more mobile than it once was, it makes no sense to put up barriers to the brightest and most talented people who might want to work here, build businesses here, and call this country home.  Permitting more skilled immigrants to enter is good for the immigrants and good for the country that receives them.

Cross-posted from the National Chamber Foundation's blog.

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