- The true cost of pandemic-related border closures is being felt in the skills shortage within accounting and the broader workforce.
- New immigration policies and procedures by both the Australian and New Zealand governments to streamline skilled-worker intake is attracting new talent, but some claim the estimates of workers needed to fill roles are too conservative.
- Advocacy work by CA ANZ is shaping new approaches to the intake for roles such as auditors and taxation accountants.
By John Burfitt
Australia and New Zealand have been built upon the foundations of multiculturalism and migration, and the forces of immigration have played a crucial role in advancing the economy and driving growth.
As both countries continue the economic climb out of the recent pandemic, the impact of years of interrupted migration continues to be felt, including through widespread skills shortages in accounting roles and across the workforce.
Among the impact of the pandemic has been a dramatic shift in the conversation about immigration. Sometimes a contentious issue in political circles, the reality of what happens to the economies of Australia and New Zealand when immigration is reduced to a trickle has been dramatic.
As the Economic Impact of Migration report by the Migration Council of Australia stated, “The verdict is clear: migration is central to Australia’s future prosperity. Without migration, the population would stagnate and our economy would go backwards.”
That report was issued before COVID-19 changed the global economic landscape, but its lessons seem more pertinent than ever today.
More, but still not enough
“The market is expanding and expanding fast, and we’re going to need a lot of people to fill a wide range of roles,” professor Rahat Munir, Macquarie University’s head of department of Accounting and Corporate Governance, says.
But Munir believes the current Australian Government estimate of a need for 300,000 immigrants this year to address the skills shortage falls short.
“In my calculations, the real figure for temporary and permanent immigrants for Australia and New Zealand will be two times more than what it is now,” he says. “Number one, because these immigrants are bringing skills to promote more business and the more you promote business activities, then the more advancements and productivity increases. The continuing arrival of immigrants is critically important to the Australian economy.
“In my calculations, the real figure for temporary and permanent immigrants for Australia and New Zealand will be two times more than what it is now.”
“Secondly, what will happen is other job opportunities will be created and more international immigrants will be needed. That’s the cycle that’s started.”
Deloitte’s Fiona Webb, national global employer services partner, believes time is of the essence in ensuring both Australia and New Zealand are not left behind in the quest to attract high-skilled candidates.
“In the past, countries like ours used to get a fair share of talent because we have the lifestyle and career opportunities Australia and New Zealand are famous for, but post-COVID, we’re having to work a lot harder to get those skilled people in,” she says.
“Coupled with there being a bit of the hangover from the ‘fortress’ image we both had and the complexity of the migration process, there is a little uncertainty about travelling to our part of the world these days.”
Key shortages in the profession are currently for such roles as taxation accountants, external auditors, management accountants and corporate treasurers.
Ebb and flow
The shortage issue is, however, greater than just immigration. It’s also due to the talent drain that took place once the borders reopened and professionals wasted no time in leaving for their delayed overseas experience. In New Zealand, government estimates placed the 2022 exodus at 50,000, while in Australia it was a similar number just for the first months of 2023.
“You basically had three years of people leaving in a fast outflow after being cooped up,” Jarrod Kerr, chief economist with Kiwibank in Auckland, says. “This puts focus on our need for a younger workforce, as migration is the fountain of youth. Generally speaking, migrants are aged between 20 and 40, and this younger workforce is essential for the years ahead.”
“Generally speaking, migrants are aged between 20 and 40, and this younger workforce is essential for the years ahead.”
Kerr states Australia and New Zealand need to take a warning from Japan, where people aged 65 and older are estimated to account for a third of the population by 2050.
“That means there will not be enough workers underneath that part of the population to pay for everyone,” he says. “Australia and New Zealand’s outlook is better, as we import people to plug that 20 to 40 age gap, which is another reason why it’s so important to take this current shortage in immigration seriously.”
The challenges on the frontline
Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand has been on the frontline of advocacy, working with governments to revise immigration intake.
In the past six months, the Australian Department of Home Affairs has conducted a review into the country’s migration system to ensure it better meets existing challenges and sets a clear direction ahead. The findings of this review are due in the coming months.
As part of the consultation process, CA ANZ and CPA Australia made a joint submission that addressed strategies to grow the economy through migration, calling for long-term planning for permanent skilled migration. The submission put particular focus on making accounting, audit and finance professionals feature prominently in Australia’s skilled migrant intake.
It also explored strategies to ensure Australia remains attractive to prospective migrants against the background of widespread workforce shortages as well as ageing populations.
An attractive proposition
Amir Ghandar FCA, CA ANZ’s reporting and assurance leader, says the advocacy work with the government is about far more than just immigration.
“We need to make sure in Australia and New Zealand that we’re as attractive as possible to the new generations. In terms of mobility, we need to make sure we are streamlining the flows of individuals who are interested in working in different countries, especially in auditing roles.”
Ghandar says the immigration process for skilled workers like accountants has been streamlined over the past 12 months. The Australian Skilled Occupation List includes the categories of the Employer Nomination Scheme, Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme and the Skilled Independent visa, and specifies the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) code for each occupation.
“The government has been responsive from the outset to the concerns we’ve raised, through moves like prioritised auditor migration,” he says. “The government has been trying to streamline the immigration system with the different sorts of classifications and how they prioritise things, and that’s the most important step we have seen.”
Pictured: Amir Ghandar FCA
“The government has been responsive from the outset to the concerns we’ve raised, through moves like prioritised auditor migration.”
Ghandar also believes the scope of this new era of accounting needs to look beyond traditional immigration sources like the UK and Europe and instead focus more on closer neighbours.
“The engagement with our near neighbours in Asia is fundamental, and that is where a large part of the talent that is coming to Australia and New Zealand is from. We need to put a high value on fostering that flow of talent.”
Gaining the competitive edge
The global shortage has led to a critical shortage of skilled auditors available to audit both public and private entities in New Zealand.
CA ANZ’s group executive, New Zealand and the Pacific, Peter Vial FCA says the advocacy work by the organisation saw a border class exception in 2022 that allowed 180 auditors to enter the country, despite the border being effectively closed.
“Governments are hearing from every sector and every profession about desperate shortages, but where we got initially frustrated was the lack of buy-in about the importance of auditors, who are fundamental to the economy,” he explains.
“That [border class] exception basically solved the 2021 problems, but it didn’t solve the ongoing challenges,” says Vial.
In December 2022, the government recognised the critical auditor shortage was ongoing and added auditor roles to the immigration Green List, which offers a straight-to-residence pathway. Vial says this was a critical move.
“Basically, to have a competitive edge with the global talent shortage the only way to compete is to offer a clear pathway to residency,” he says.
“If an auditor in South Africa or the Philippines, for example, is looking to go to a new country, they want a guaranteed residency pathway. What we’ve found is they’re not interested in coming to New Zealand if there’s not a guaranteed pathway to residency.”
Anticipating future needs
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced he’s prepared to consider further changes to immigration settings to help ease employer labour shortage problems. The issue was top of the agenda during a recent meeting with key business leaders.
“The conversation I had with the business community was about making sure we’re getting the balance right between activating the New Zealand workforce and getting Kiwis into work,” he stated in a report in Newshub.
The role of advocacy work by CA ANZ with both Australian and New Zealand governments remains crucial, Vial adds, in addressing shortages and also planning for the future. As successful as CA ANZ’s advocacy efforts have been, significant gaps remain.
“We’ve still got a critical shortage of auditors and our profession needs to bring in as diverse range of talents as possible,” he says. “We want agile, flexible immigration settings that are speedy, sensible, pragmatic and business friendly to respond to shortages.”
One stop to a new adventure
Despite reports claiming there’s a wealth of accounting jobs on offer across the globe, David Thomas CA, a recruiter search platform co-founder, says the greatest challenge remains getting a job application in front of the right recruiter.
“When I first moved to the UK to work years back, I found it an absolute minefield to meet recruiters. Even if you get through to one agency, you might never speak with a recruiter twice,” Thomas of Next Stop Australia and Next Stop London says.
“We wanted to streamline that process so when a candidate uses our platform, they can have their details in front of at least five recruiters within minutes.”
Thomas, who worked as a CA with companies such as EY and PKF, set up both arms of the Next Stop operation in 2022 with former colleague Caitlin Clarke. Ever since, demand has been high with accountants from New Zealand and Australia looking for new roles in London, and international accountants looking to make the move to Australia.
Thomas says most accountants still consider international experience as an invaluable investment in their careers, as well as offering a lifestyle adventure.
“There are experiences that people can’t get in their home countries that they know they can get if they move overseas,” he says. “London is the second biggest financial centre in the world, and it’s possible an accountant might double their money and also find themselves on the forefront of technology and cultural change, as well as general exposure to wider ways of working.”
- Key figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in December 2022, stated migrant arrivals into Australia had increased 171% to 395,000, from 146,000 arrivals the previous year.
- Australia is on track for net migration of more than 300,000 people in 2023: more than 25% higher than Treasury’s 235,000 forecast.
- In New Zealand, the year ending January 2023 net gain of new permanent and long-term arrivals was 33,200. In February, it climbed to 52,000.
Top 5 sources of immigrants
4. The Philippines
3. South Africa
Joint Submission on A Migration System for Australia’s Future
A submission to the Department of Home Affairs as part of the Australian Government's comprehensive review of the migration system.Read more