Australia’s Immigration Minister, David Coleman is accelerating negotiations for regional migration agreements as part of the Federal Government’s plans to address labour shortages and alleviate population pressure in major cities. As a result, the Department of Home Affairs has been directed to fast track negotiations to establish Designated Area Migration Agreements without the former requirement for state approval. Mr Coleman said the Government is continuing to focus on improving migration schemes to match the needs of specific locations, especially employment gaps in regional areas such as the Pilbara and Goldfields in WA.
Designated Area Migration Agreements enable businesses in regional Australia to engage overseas workers more easily for certain skilled and semi-skilled occupations. Find out more about the migration agreements being established in the Pilbara and Goldfields regions below.
The Pilbara migration agreement
The Government is proposing a Pilbara Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) to help address the area’s labour shortages in sectors such as hospitality, childcare and administration. The proposed Designated Area Migration Agreement would provide employers concessions to the criteria to engage overseas workers on a Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) Visa for occupations such as childcare workers, teacher’s aides, waiters, office managers, book keepers, sales assistants, commercial cleaners and livestock farm workers in the region. Further occupations may be added to the list following further negotiations. MP Federal Member for Durack, Melissa Price believes we could see the Pilbara migration agreement established as soon as the end of this year as “the main elements are already in place.”
Karratha and Districts Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive Kylah Morrison said many businesses have found it difficult to retain staff or hire new employees in the region and establishing a Designated Migration Area Agreement would be a way to ease pressure on employers. She said, “If they can hire someone that’s going to stay, it gives them consistency and continuity to expand and grow in business rather than just trying to survive.”
Ms Morrison said past experience has shown migrants have been more likely to stay in the region and make it their home compared to employees who have relocated from other areas in Australia.
The Goldfields migration agreement
A similar migration agreement is also being developed to address labour shortages in Kalgoorlie. The City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder has estimated there are currently 1600 job vacancies in the area. Kalgoorlie-Boulder Chief Executive John Walker said the mining region was in need of more people and is planning to increase the city’s population from 30,000 to 40,000 within a few years. Mr Walker believes establishing a Designated Area Migration Agreement will help to make this possible.
Mr Walker said, “We’re putting together a submission for drillers, truck drivers. Mining professionals, hospital, childcare and disability workers. We’ve had these shortages forever. We want people to live in town and we’re the perfect place for young families – only 6 per cent of the population is over 65. We welcome everyone.”
Similar to the Pilbara Migration Agreement, the Government plans to introduce concessions to the criteria to engage overseas workers on a Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) Visa for the above occupations. You can read our previous article about a Designated Area Migration Agreement being developed for the Goldfields region here.
Backlogs in Regional Visas while Designated Area Migration Agreements are being established
While Designated Area Migration Agreement negotiations are progressing, the Department of Home Affairs is currently experiencing a backlog of 20,000 regional visa applications waiting to be assessed and with long processing delays of around two years. This is predominantly occurring in the the Subclass 187 Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme, which is part of the employer sponsored migration program.
John Hourigan, President of the Migration Institute of Australia said, “The processing times are now so long that nominations involving offshore applicants are being refused on ‘genuineness’ grounds.”
“Because how can an employer say they’ve found a suitably qualified overseas worker to fill a critical vacancy today knowing that the vacancy’s got to be there in two years’ time once the department has commenced assessing the nomination?”
Statistics show the number of regional visa approvals have reached their lowest level in a decade with recently released figures published by the Government showing state-specific and regional visa approvals fell to 36,250 places in 2017-18. Visas approved for the Subclass 187 Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme fell from 20,510 five years ago to 6,221 last year.
Directing migrants to regional areas for five years
The Federal Government is continuing plans to introduce a scheme which will require new migrants to work outside major cities for five years. It is unclear whether this will take the form of a Designated Migration Area Agreement, reforms to the existing 187 Visa program, or even a new visa subclass being established. We will keep you informed on further developments as they arise.
If your business has regional operations requiring overseas workers, contact Interstaff on 08 9221 3388 or [email protected] for specialist advice on a migration strategy for your labour needs.