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Migrant labour

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Chris F. Wright
added 3 research items
This article uses human capital theory to analyse employer motivations for recruiting skilled migrants on temporary sponsored visas, a group receiving limited attention within human resource management (HRM) scholarship despite being an increasingly important part of the workforce in many organisations and countries. We address this gap through a survey analysis of 1602 employer respondents who sponsored temporary skilled visa holders in Australia. The findings indicate that cost-effectiveness as a motivator for recruitment decisions can be achieved not only through HRM strategies to maximise worker productivity, as human capital theories emphasise, but also by identifying groups of workers perceived as harder working than other groups. The findings also draw attention to the role of government policy in this identification process, specifically visa regulations constraining the mobility of temporary sponsored skilled migrants, which allows employers to utilise these workers’ human capital effectively. JEL Classification: J61, M12, M51, O15
The migration status of temporary migrant workers is often presented as a major determinant of labour rights and worker vulnerabilities. Using a sequential mixed method approach this article interrogates this proposition to examine the factors exacerbating temporary migrant worker exploitation within the Australian horticulture industry. The article finds that temporary migrants’ access to labour rights are shaped by their migration status. However, in contrast to prevalent assumptions, visa conditions play a preliminary, rather than a deterministic, role in this vulnerability. The article argues that notwithstanding the considerable links between vulnerability and migration status, changes in the political economy of Australian horticulture towards neoliberal or ‘pro-market governance’ arrangements have been central drivers of worker vulnerability. It focuses on three manifestations of these arrangements – the intensification of supply chain pressures, the emergence of labour market intermediaries, and the reduced presence of trade unions – as critical actors shaping temporary migrant worker agency.
This article analyses the function of temporary sponsored skilled migrants in Australian hospitality, an industry with acute difficulties attracting and retaining skilled workers. Drawing upon survey data, the findings indicate that rather than utilising temporary sponsored skilled migration to source hard skills, as assumed within the extant literature, employers’ recruitment practices are motivated by a desire to source soft skills and labour perceived as relatively controllable, productive and reliable. In explaining these findings, the article develops new insights regarding the dependence of temporary sponsored skilled migrants on their employer sponsors and the industry effects of hospitality. These factors make these workers a relatively more attractive source of labour and shape the nature of employer demand.
Chris F. Wright
added 21 research items
Comparative scholarship tacitly assumes immigration politics to be relatively rigid. A state's immigration policy legacy is said to institutionalise policy preferences, thereby making it difficult to implement lasting reforms that are inconsistent with that legacy. This presents difficulties for states with restrictionist legacies wanting to implement liberal reforms in response to the emergence of labour shortages or demographic problems. The supposed rigidity of immigration politics is scrutinised in this article through a systematic process analysis of developments in the United Kingdom over the past decade, where the Blair government confounded the UK's characterisation as a ‘reluctant immigration state’ to implement various liberal work visa reforms. The uncoordinated nature of policymaking and implementation, and the limited involvement of state and societal institutions in the reform process, reflect the UK's historical experience with restrictionist policies, and help to explain the subsequent reintroduction of strict visa controls. The case demonstrates that policy legacies indeed play a significant role in defining the character of the policymaking institutions that shape a state's immigration politics.
• This paper presents an analysis of the findings of a survey of 1,600 Australian employers conducted in 2012 to examine the question of why employers recruit workers on temporary skilled subclass 457 visas. It seeks to address political disagreement and uncertainly over the impact of the 457 visa scheme on the Australian labour market. • The main stated objective of the 457 visa is to help employers address skilled labour shortages. We find that the vast majority of employer survey respondents claim to experience challenges recruiting workers from the local labour market, while a small majority of employers cite the role of the 457 visa in filling skilled vacancies as a benefit of the scheme. However, it is important to note that recruitment challenges and skilled job vacancies are not necessarily the same as skills shortages. Only a very small proportion of employer respondents claim that they would seek to address skilled vacancies by increasing the salary being offered, which is generally considered a necessary precondition for a skills shortage to exist. Therefore, even where employers are using the 457 visa scheme because of skills shortages, the shortages that exist do not appear to be acute. • It appears that employers in the education and training, health care and social assistance, information media and telecommunications, professional, scientific and technical services, and mining industries are more likely than average to use the 457 visa scheme for reasons relating to its intended purpose of addressing skills shortages. • In contrast, the findings indicate that many employers are not using 457 visas to address skills shortages. When selecting potential skilled migrants, employer respondents place greater priority on interpersonal competencies than on ‘hard skills’ such as qualifications and experience. A significant minority of employers use the scheme to engage workers perceived to be harder working or more loyal. Employers in some industries are much more likely to express satisfaction with workers on 457 visas than ‘similar Australian workers’, which suggests that these employers may have developed an embedded preference for 457 visa holders. • The problem of the 457 visa not fulfilling its stated objective is particularly acute among employers in the accommodation and food services industry, and to a lesser extent the construction and manufacturing industries. These employers should be encouraged to utilise alternative strategies to address their recruitment difficulties before using the 457 visa. Improving job quality to attract a wider pool of candidates, greater investment in structured training to facilitate career development opportunities for existing and prospective employees, and other measures likely to engender long-term workforce commitment and retention are likely to be more effective than the 457 visa scheme for helping these employers to alleviate their recruitment problems in a more systematic manner. • We argue that skilled migration needs to continue as a central policy solution for addressing skills shortages. Alternatives such as structured training and education suffer from significant inadequacies that must be addressed, but steps also need to be taken to ensure that employers engage more extensively with the domestic education and training system in addressing their skills needs. • Our findings indicate that the current practice of using employer demand to identify skills shortages is highly problematic. We therefore support the conclusions of previous studies (Howe, 2013) and independent reviews (Azarias et al., 2014) and recommend the establishment of an independent mechanism to verify the existence of skills shortages before employers can use the 457 visa. We also support the use of a more precise list of occupations for sponsorship. • The employer survey analysed in this paper was conducted prior to reforms implemented in July 2013 that introduced labour market testing requirements and extended the period for visa holders to find another sponsor before losing their right to residency. The findings need to be interpreted in the context of these policy changes, which may have affected the reasons why employers recruit workers on 457 visas, in particular by discouraging them from using the scheme for reasons other than addressing skills shortages.
The question of why states actively choose to relax skilled immigration controls given the potential political risks involved remains largely unaddressed in the non-European context. Using a systematic process analysis of recent policy change in Australia, this paper asks whether comparative political economy frameworks, which have been conceived mainly with reference to European states with corporatist policy-making traditions, can explain the reasons for liberal skilled visa reform in states where governments have greater autonomy from the ‘social partners’. Consistent with the assumptions of these frameworks, labour market demands generated by a predominant liberal production regime strongly conditioned the policy preferences of key actors and institutions in the Australian case, which in turn influenced skilled visa reform. The findings suggest that while the comparative political economy frameworks have considerable utility in explaining skilled immigration policy change in non-European cases, they cannot fully account for the autonomy and distinct motivations of the state and the influence of ‘non-market’ factors over policy preferences and actor behaviour.