How can employers mobilise overseas workers in a skill shortage landscape? Our team explores some of the options.
1. Take a strategic, proactive approach to workforce planning
A seamless migration pathway to Australia, with options for permanent residency, is required to attract and retain global talent. In our experience, the most successful international recruitment campaigns occur where businesses and government departments take a proactive approach and consider migration strategy and implementation before recruiting and onboarding.
Australia's visa program comprises a very large number of visa categories, each with their own eligibility requirements, costs, timing, employer obligations and associated risks. When considering the visa options for a particular employee to meet a particular role or skill shortage, it is important to think strategically about the options available, in the context of key commercial objectives. There is no one-size-fits all approach, and options that may be appropriate or available at one point in time might not be the best fit a few months later.
The six months since the border reopening on 21 February 2022 has seen an increase in visa application numbers and a corresponding increase in processing times for several visa categories. This is currently a pain point for organisations utilising the visa scheme to fill skilled labour shortages.
Thorough workforce planning is an important part of mitigating issues associated with protracted visa processing. A realistic understanding of expected processing times at an early stage in the workplace planning process is an important starting point for employers. In addition, a proactive approach to workforce planning, considering resourcing needs in the mid to longer term, will help to minimise delays in filling roles and on-boarding staff.
2. Consider flexible options to address skills shortages
The standard sponsored visa options have strict requirements regarding skills, work experience, English requirements, and the occupations available for sponsorship.
The Department of Home Affairs has developed a number of flexible options for employers who need to employ foreign workers in roles that otherwise would not be eligible for Australian visas or pathways to Australian permanent residency. In particular, Labour Agreements, including Designed Area Migration Agreements (DAMAs) and Global Talent Employer Sponsored (GTES), provide flexible, out-of-the-box solutions for employers to address skills shortages when the standard employer sponsored programs are not fit for purpose.
A Labour Agreement is a formal arrangement negotiated between an employer and the Australian Government to allow an employer to recruit skilled overseas workers where the standard visa program is not suitable.
Labour Agreements allow for flexibility in the occupation requirements, skill requirements, English requirements and salary requirements of the traditional visa program.
Designated Area Migration Agreements (DAMA)
DAMA are a type of Labour Agreement where a specific region, state or territory in Australia has negotiated an agreement with the Australian Government to provide access to overseas workers in skill shortage occupations within that area.
Employers within that area can then negotiate a labour agreement within the settings of the head agreement for the region/state/territory. This provides flexibility for regions to respond to their unique economic and labour market conditions.
Global Talent Employer Sponsored (GTES)
The GTES is a specific type of labour agreement designed to attract highly skilled migrants with cutting edge skills into niche occupations to help innovate established businesses and contribute to Australia’s developing start-up ecosystem.
The GTES is available to two types of employers.
The Established Business stream is for public companies or businesses with an annual turnover of more than $4 million who can meet the criteria to be an accredited sponsor with Home Affairs. It allows employers to sponsor highly skilled applicants where the position will result in a skills transfer to Australian workers and the salary offered will be over the Fair Work High Income Threshold ($153,600 as at 1 July 2020).
The Start-up stream is for businesses operating in a technology based or STEM related field who are endorsed by an independent start-up advisory panel. It allows employers to sponsor highly skilled applicants where the position will result in a skills transfer to Australian workers and the salary package will be at least $80,000.
3. Utilise COVID concessions
There are a range of post-COVID concessions available to some visa holders. These concessions may particularly interest employers:
Working Holiday (subclass 417) and Work and Holiday (subclass 462) visa holders
These visa holders can currently work for an employer for more than 6 months without requesting permission, despite condition 8547 which generally limits them to a 6 month work duration for any one employer. This concession is currently in place until 31 December 2022.
Student visa (subclass 500) visa holders
Student visa holders currently do not have restrictions on the number of hours they can work, despite condition 8105 which limits them to working no more than 40 hours a fortnight while their course is in session.
Australian Government Endorsed Events (COVID-19 Pandemic event) stream visa (subclass 408)
This visa stream was introduced at the start of the pandemic to provide a temporary visa pathway for temporary residents in Australia who did not have other visa options available to them and could not leave Australia. The COVID 408 visa remains in effect and continues to provide a temporary work visa option for temporary residents whose visas are expiring and who do not have other options available to them for a range of reasons.
Temporary Graduate visa (subclass 485) applicants
The requirement to nominate an occupation and obtain a skills assessment has been removed for the Graduate Work stream of the 485 visa lodged between 1 July 2022 and 30 June 2023, which opens up further temporary stays for international student graduates.
Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) (subclass 482) visa holder
A temporary pathway to permanent residence via the Employer Nomination Scheme (subclass 186) has been added for a limited cohort of 482/457 visa holders who are otherwise not eligible and were in Australia during the pandemic.
Business employing the above visa holder cohorts need to ensure they remain up-to-date with any changes to these concessions, to ensure that they do not inadvertently breach their employer obligations under the Migration Act.