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The State of ImmigrationAustralia

Open Arms in the Land Down Under

No quotas on high-skilled temporary visas, easy policies on transferring personnel, the ability for individuals to gain permanent residence within two years, strong policies on retaining international students, and good policies on hiring lower-skilled workers and attracting entrepreneurs make Australia’s immigration policies among the world’s most favorable for economic growth.

At 28 percent, the proportion of Australia’s population that is foreign born is approximately twice as high as that of the United States, and its annual flow of immigrants per 1,000 residents is more than three times as high as America’s (11 new immigrants per 1,000 residents for Australia versus three per 1,000 residents for the United States).49

Australia possesses some of the world’s most pro-growth immigration policies. The 457 temporary visa, equivalent to a U.S. H-1B visa, is easy to obtain for high-skilled professionals. Moreover, such professionals can normally transition to permanent residence after two years, in contrast to the six to 10 years or longer it can take for an employment-based green card in the U.S. immigration system. Intracompany transfers into Australia are considered a snap, and working holiday visas help fill gaps in the workforce, along with visas for lower-skilled workers.

Australia possesses a long history of accepting immigrants, starting from its roots as a British penal colony (and later a group of colonies) from 1788 through its transition to the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. While earlier waves of immigrants came from England, the leading countries of origin today are India and China, with the United Kingdom (U.K.) in third place.50

Like in many advanced economies, immigration stories that capture the most media attention concern unauthorized immigrants. In Australia, that has meant asylum seekers attempting to arrive via boat.

While some U.S. policymakers have looked at Australia as a possible model for the United States, aspects of Australia’s system make it distinct and potentially challenging to adopt. First, Australia’s points-based system is generally not relevant to employers, according to immigration attorneys. “The points system is not at all important for corporate immigration in Australia,” said Tim Denney with Berry Appleman & Leiden in Sydney. “The points system comes into play when an individual seeks to migrate to Australia and does not have a business operating in Australia willing to sponsor him or her upfront for either a temporary work visa or permanent residence.”51

Second, 70 percent of immigrants admitted to Australia each year arrive via a family connection. While about one-third of immigrants come to Australia as family sponsored, an Australian Parliamentary report explained, “It is important to acknowledge that over fifty percent of the Skill Stream is in fact comprised of family (secondary visa holders).”52 Combining the numbers from the two programs, the report noted, “It may be interpreted that over the past decade the family component has actually accounted for around 70 per cent of the total Migration Program.”53 The conclusion: “In this light, family migration still remains at the very heart of Australia’s Migration Program,” and the report calls family migration a “net gain” that helps attract skilled workers.54

Third, in addition to lower-skilled visas, Australia fills niches in its labor market via Working Holiday visas. The visas allow people ages 18–30 from nearly 20 countries, including the U.K., France, Germany and Canada, to work for up to 12 months at any job in Australia (no more than six months with one employer).55 In 2012, Australia granted 258,250 working holiday visas.56

Fourth, similar to the free movement of labor within the European Union, citizens of New Zealand can enter Australia to work without a visa. In 2012, 41,200 people from New Zealand came to Australia as “permanent settlers under the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement.”57

The Australian government is trying to attract workers who will help companies grow. America could learn a lot from the Land Down Under.

49. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
50. Ibid.
51. Interview with Tim Denney.
52. Gareth Larsen (December 23, 2013), Family Migration to Australia, Parliamentary Library Research Paper.
53. Ibid.
54. Ibid.
55. Working Holiday Visa, Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
56. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
57. Ibid.


Score Breakdown: Australia vs. United States

Attracting Foreign Entrepreneurs
Attracting Foreign Entrepreneurs
3.5 (vs. United States 1.5)

An existing entity in another country or a substantial investment from a venture capital firm allows temporary status as head of office in Australia.

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Hiring High-Skilled Foreign Nationals
Hiring High-Skilled Foreign Nationals
4.0 (vs. United States 2.0)

There are no quotas on temporary visas for high-skilled foreign nationals. There are market wage requirements and a labor market test for a number of positions (but exemptions exist and advertising could be for just one day). Most employers meet the training requirement.

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Hiring Lower-Skilled Workers
Hiring Lower-Skilled Workers
3.5 (vs. United States 1.5)

Working Holiday visas for young adults and 457 visas allow Australian employers to fill gaps in the labor market. However, 457 visas for lower-skilled workers are subject to labor market testing.

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Lawful Permanent Residence For High-Skilled Workers
Lawful Permanent Residence For High-Skilled Workers
4.5 (vs. United States 2.5)

After working for two years, individuals on temporary visas can receive streamlined permanent residence via the Employer Nomination Scheme. It is also possible for employers to nominate individuals (whether or not they are on temporary visas) via the Employer Nomination Scheme under the skill assessment option or executive salary option. It also is possible to gain permanent residence if nominated by an employer in one of Australia’s regions. Quotas exist for immigration categories in Australia but for skilled categories are rarely met.

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Retention of International Students Postgraduation
Retention of International Students Postgraduation
4.5 (vs. United States 3.0)

Australia gives an advantage to international students who apply for temporary visas. A Temporary Graduate visa allows students to stay and seek employment in Australia. The lack of quotas on temporary visas provides opportunities for international students sought by employers.

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Transferring High-Skilled Employees Across Borders
Transferring High-Skilled Employees Across Borders
5.0 (vs. United States 3.0)

There are few denials, and the process is considered easy; a company does not need to maintain a presence to transfer an employee into Australia.

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About the Report

Business Roundtable selected the evaluated countries based on five criteria:

1. Worldwide university rankings;
2. Per-capita income;
3. Gross domestic product growth rate;
4. Net migration rate; and
5. Research and development investment.

After comparing each advanced economy relative to the five criteria, the top 10 countries (including the United States) were selected for the study: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (U.K.). Not coincidentally, these are the countries with which the United States competes most for foreign talent, particularly in science and technology fields.

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