The opening of ‘side doors’ and ‘back doors’ to a de-facto low skilled labour immigration policy in Australia

Stream: Panel 13 - Comparative Politics: Themes in Temporary Migration
Date: Monday, 26 September 2016
Time: 2.00 pm – 3.30 pm


Since the 1970s, Australia has officially adopted a skilled immigration policy rather than labour immigration policy. As such, the main permanent and temporary skilled visa categories are focused almost exclusively on selecting migrant workers qualified to work in managerial, professional and skilled trades occupations, making it very difficult for intermediate or lower skilled migrant workers to gain entry. Despite the pretence of this official skilled immigration policy regime, we argue that two factors have contributed to the emergence of a de facto labour immigration policy in Australia. Firstly, the gradual opening of ‘side door’ visa schemes that fall outside of the formal scope of official skilled immigration policy, such as student and working holiday visas, and the growing number of ‘back door’ unauthorised migrants without any right to work, have allowed some employers in sectors such as agriculture and retail to develop a reliance on large migrant workforces engaged to perform low-skilled, low-paid occupations. Secondly, inadequacies in Australia’s employment regulation enforcement regime have permitted employers using these recruitment practices to flourish. We utilise qualitative research from several joint and individual projects to explain the erosion of Australia’s official policy of skilled immigration. Drawing upon concepts from migration studies, public administration and employment relations scholarship, we focus on the reasons why ‘side doors’ and ‘back doors’ to lower-skilled and unauthorised labour migration – traditionally features of states that are reluctant to accept migrant workers officially and those with weak immigration control capacity – have become features of Australia’s policy landscape.


Chris Wright (Presenter), University of Sydney
Chris F Wright is a Research Fellow in the University of Sydney Business School. He received his PhD from the University of Cambridge. Chris’s research covers various issues relating to the intersection of employment, globalisation and public policy, with particular interests in labour market institutions, immigration and supply chains. He is co-editor of International and Comparative Employment Relations, an Associate Editor of the Journal of Industrial Relations and his work has been published in Journal of Business Ethics, International Journal of Human Resource Management, Governance, West European Politics and Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

Stephen Clibborn (Presenter), University of Sydney
Stephen Clibborn is an Associate Lecturer in the Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies in the University of Sydney Business School. He is also an Associate Editor of the Journal of Industrial Relations. Stephen’s research focuses on the workplace rights and experiences of low-waged migrant workers, both with and without work authorisation. Prior to entering academia, Stephen was a lawyer, working in Sydney in a national commercial law firm, and in New York in the headquarters of a multinational corporation in the fast moving consumer goods sector and in a not-for-profit organisation representing the interests of low-waged and unemployed workers.