Australia taking higher numbers of skilled immigrants

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The number of Australia's skilled workers has increased by almost 78,000 in the past year in an effort to solve the country's skills shortage. This is the largest intake of skilled migrants since the late 1980s.

A total of 18,700 migrants took advantage of the state-specific and regional migration program, with 7,100 settling in Victoria and almost 5,000 calling South Australia home - an increase of almost 140 per cent in SA on 2003-04 figures.

When it came to specific skills, the biggest increase came in the form of doctors, with 260 migrating to Australia in 2004-05 - a 300 per cent increase on last year.

Accountants, nurses and tradespeople, including mechanics, electricians and builders, were also among the most sought-after skills wanted by the Australian government.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the government had responded to the shortage by bringing record numbers of skilled migrants to the country.

"The 77,880 skill stream migrants in 2004-05 account for about 65 per cent of the total program," she said. "At 120,060, the overall migration (non-humanitarian) program was the largest since the late 1980s. The government's focus on skilled migration continues to benefit Australia's economy, while it maintained a sizable level of family reunion [immigration]."

But Senator Vanstone said the increase in the number of skilled migrants failed to tell the whole story.

"The story is in the individuals from a female Dutch welder working in Darwin, a Scottish hairdresser now working in South Australia's Barossa Valley, to an Irish geologist working on the Western Australian goldfields and the South African nurse working in Tasmania," she said. "These migrants are playing a vital role in helping to address the critical skill shortages felt by employers in local communities across Australia."

The number of overseas students migrating to Australia after completing their studies here reached a record level, with almost 16,500 visas granted in 2004-05.

Senator Vanstone announced in April the 2005-06 migration (non-humanitarian) program would be between 130,000 and 140,000 with about 97,500 skilled migrants, exceeding the 2004-05 figures by about 20,000.

Labor has criticised the government's plan to plug the skills shortage with migrant workers and says more resources should be pumped into training Australians.