The ACS fires ... but shoots blanks?

commentary The Australian Computer Society plans to meet government officials this week to highlight the urgent need for immigration reform.The society came out all guns blazing, armed with a policy statement on how the influx of foreign professionals has robbed local technology workers of jobs.

commentary The Australian Computer Society plans to meet government officials this week to highlight the urgent need for immigration reform.

The society came out all guns blazing, armed with a policy statement on how the influx of foreign professionals has robbed local technology workers of jobs. It even had several recommendations for the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) on how the government's skilled migration programs could be improved.

As at June 2004, the migration visa programs contributed about 16,000 people to the ICT workforce, or 10 percent of Australia's total technology workforce, the ACS said.

In terms of the different classifications, 9,000 applications were approved for long-term permanent residency. For the short-term 457 and 417 working visas, 5,000 and 2,000 were granted respectively.

The first point on ACS' to-do list is to lobby the government to reduce the number of foreign students who proceed to become permanent residents upon completing their studies. Last year, 4,700 non-resident Australian technology graduates became residents through the General Skilled Migration Program.

To maintain a vibrant work environment for local graduates, this is a step in the right direction. But just how much reduction is required -- taking into consideration our ageing population, which in turn underlines the need for a larger taxable pool? The ACS offered no clear answers.

It was initially believed that the silence stemmed from a legal wrangle with Bob Kinnaird, the labour market specialist who authored a report on the impact of Australia's ICT immigration policies -- the main source of the society's policy statement.

But at last Friday's media conference, ACS President Edward Mandla claimed ignorance.

"I don't know .... We really don't know .... We haven't got that data."

"I don't have a figure," Mandla repeated, adding that it was neither up to him nor the ACS to provide such statistics.

But ZDNet Australia&nbsp discovered that Kinnaird did indeed propose a specific reduction in numbers.

It's unclear why Mandla misrepresented himself instead of claiming immunity on legal grounds.

On the issue of 457 temporary working visas, the ACS had a total of seven recommendations on how DIMIA could tighten the process. For instance, it called on the minimum salaries for such visas to be based on market rate and ICT specialisation, and reviewed annually.

For all its talk, for all the damage 457 visas have apparently caused ... the ACS didn't call for a decrease in the number of visas granted. It did, however, highlight the need for technical skills assessment -- a role the society undertakes for ICT applicants under the General Skilled Migration Program.

The ACS charges a non-refundable fee of $350 to assess the skills of foreigners seeking permanent residency. If 457 visas were included -- a role which Mandla readily wants-- and based on the number of ICT workers in this category, this would mean an additional $1.7 million. In total, this figure could be much higher since every single applicant -- successful or not -- will have to pay to get their skills assessed.

There will be much to talk about when Mandla meets department officials in Canberra. To succeed, hopefully, he is less elusive and has proper facts to justify his claims. Otherwise, it will be back to square one ... especially for the ACS.

Fran Foo is ZDNet Australia managing editor.