Calls are being made to lift or abolish the age restriction for General Skilled Migrants amid claims Australia's migration program could be in conflict with anti age-discrimination legislation.
By
Andrew Bolton

24 Oct 2012 - 9:33 AM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2013 - 10:48 AM

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Is Australia's migration program in conflict with anti age-discrimination legislation?

Calls are being made to lift or abolish the age restriction for General Skilled Migrants.

At present the cut-off is 50 years.

However, some submissions to a review by the Australian Law Reform Commission suggest this may conflict with the Age Discrimination Act.

Australia's skilled migration policy is designed to target migrants with skills for which there is a shortage in the Australian labour market.

The skilled migration program is by its nature selective and discriminates between applicants on the basis of a range of criteria, including age, to determine which applicants are likely to make the greatest economic contribution.

The cut-off for a General Skilled Migration visa is 50 years of age.

The Australian Law Reform Commission is reviewing legislation that may impede older people participating in the workforce and the immigration age barrier is one facet of that.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence says age restrictions on migration should be reviewed with reference to international developments.

Simon Biggs is Professor of Gerontology at the University of Melbourne.

He also led the research team that compiled the Brotherhood's submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission review.

Professor Biggs says older skilled people are more in demand than before.

When the ALRC look at other countries they cite two countries, New Zealand and Canada that do have age restrictions although they are less stringently applied than we apply them. The real question is "why don't they compare us to major competitors such as the European Union and the United States?" ... neither of whom have any age restrictions on their migrants, so if there is going to be competition for older workers globally in a globalised market then we are at a significant disadvantage.

Age Discrimination Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission, Susan Ryan says one of the rationale's often put forward in support of an age barrier is productivity.

With the age 50 migrant cut off - there are a variety of views - some people would argue that if a person is coming in as a skilled migrant we want more than 15 years out of them, if they come in say at 60 - we might only get a few years work - we would rather them come in at 50 or younger so the economy gets the benefit of more years of work.

But the top body representing older Australians has an issue with that.

Ian Yates is chief executive of COTA, formerly known as Council On The Ageing.

He says all age barriers to migration should be lifted.

We take the view that any arbitrary age barrier is discriminatory and should be removed. It is about saying there ought to be a whole lot of other things - the factors that you are trying to get at that you are using age as a proxy for - we know that age is a very bad proxy because people are being treated as a class rather than individuals so the same thing should apply, it would seem to me, in terms of immigration.

The Government of South Australia argued in its submission that, as age limits for qualification for the Age Pension increase, so too should age limits under skilled migration programs.

By 2023, men and women will only qualify for the Age Pension at age 67.

The South Australian Government also says increased age limits would also reflect the demographic reality that people are living longer in Australia.

The Australian Law Reform Commission acknowledges that the age barrier for migrants does not sit easily with Australian law that states that discrimination on the basis of age is unlawful.

However, the Commission does point out that if a migrant is sponsored on a temporary basis by an employer, there is no age limit on applications under the 4-5-7 visa scheme.

The Law Reform Commission says it is not proposing to recommend to the government that the age limit for general skilled migrants be increased because it's impossible to discriminate against someone in the Australian workforce if they have not been allowed into the country.

But Professor Biggs from the Brotherhood of St Laurence - maintains refusing to lift the age barrier for General Skilled Migration to at least 55 - represents a lost opportunity for Australia.

His says his provisional research reveals that contrary to the Commission's assumption, older non-Australian born people are actually more productive than Australian-borns, due to a higher skills base.

Older migrants bring skills and often financial resources to their host country from their country of origin - so it isn't that they are coming with a blank slate, the often come with skills that have been paid for elsewhere or they are bringing earnings and savings that they have accumulated abroad.

The closing date for submissions to the ALRC on -- Grey Areas: Age Barriers to Work in Commonwealth Laws -- is Friday 23 November 2012.