Skilled overseas workers are to be enticed to work in regional Australia on temporary visas with the promise that it will be easier for them to gain permanent residency if they so wish.
As part of a plan to cope with a severe shortage of skilled labour in some parts of the country, particularly the booming mining sector in Western Australia, immigration minister Chris Bowen has announced major changes to the visa programme.
The number of permanent migration visas will be increased to 185,000 in 2011/12, with about two thirds to fill critical skill shortages in regional areas. The government’s skill stream intake will go up to 125,850 places, with 16,000 earmarked for rural Australia.
Regional visas will be processed as a priority over others, Bowen confirmed. It will be the first time the Australian government has specifically allocated permanent visas to rural areas.
The government will also introduce special migration agreements for big resource projects. For overseas workers who stay in a regional area on a 457 visa for two years, and whose employer can guarantee another two years’ work, the permanent residency process will be sped up.
‘This is a custom designed, project wide migration arrangement uniquely suited to the resources sector, ensuring skills shortages do not create constraints on major projects and jeopardise Australian jobs,’ explained Bowen, who stressed that it would be only a temporary solution.
Family migration will also increase to 58,600 places, compared with 54,550 last year. The government argues that family migration is socially important and is a factor in retaining skilled migrants.
Almost $4.8 billion will be spent marketing migration opportunities and visas to regional employers. Agreements to tackled labour shortages in a particular region will set out the type and number of workers needed.
Bowen stressed that the new 457s will not be at the expense of local workers. ‘Overseas labour will only be supplementary, with resources projects required to demonstrate effective and ongoing local recruitment,’ he said.
To qualify under the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme overseas workers will need certified trade skills and/or in demand professional qualifications and be able to demonstrate competency in English.
As yet the nature of these jobs has to be defined and cost of labour may be a factor. The increase in the regional skilled migration programme will cost the government $5.9 million over the next four years.