As we enter the next phase of Australia’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government is focusing on ways to attract more top talent to the country. We’ve set ourselves apart as an attractive destination for foreign talent because of our stable economy and swift COVID response. Now, the government is recommending changes that would create even more opportunities for skilled migrants to help with Australia’s COVID recovery and bolster the economy.
Recommended changes to the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List
In a March 2021 Inquiry into Australia’s Skilled Migration Program, the Migration Committee presented numerous findings and proposed a handful of changes. The report begins by pointing out:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant effect on Australia’s workforce. While 94% of Australians who lost their jobs or were stood down to zero hours are now back in work, there are still significant skills shortages in the economy. As a result of COVID-19, over 500,000 temporary visa holders left Australia resulting in significant skills shortages. The Committee has heard that job vacancies in November last year reached 254,000, higher than any point in the last 10 years.”
The Committee suggested several changes to manage this skill shortage, including the following:
- Expanding the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List urgently to include Chefs, Veterinarians, Cafe and Restaurant Managers, and Seafarers.
- An urgent review of the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List by the Department of Home Affairs, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, to expand the number of occupations to better reflect the urgent skills shortages in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic recovery. The Department should give particular consideration to civil engineers, electrical engineers, motor mechanics, cooks, carpenters, electricians, and other roles in the hospitality, health, trades, agriculture, and manufacturing sectors.
These specific recommendations are in response to labour shortages throughout the country. The report states:
“The Committee has received significant evidence about the shortages of Chefs, Veterinarians, Cafe and Restaurant Managers, and Seafarers. The Committee has greater confidence in making recommendations that these skilled occupations should be added to the PMSOL immediately because stakeholders have quantified the skilled labour shortages that exist.”
The Committee also recommended that the other occupation lists be reviewed as soon as practicable to ensure that the lists accurately reflect Australia’s employment challenges as the economy emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
What do these recommendations mean?
Currently, all foreign nationals must obtain a travel exemption to travel to Australia. There are two exemption categories:
- Automatically exempt persons includes Australian citizens, permanent residents, and their immediate family members (see the full list here) and
- Individual exemptions, which are granted in specific circumstances to people helping with the COVID-19 response, critical skills workers, workers in critical industries, workers in occupations on the PMSOL list, and others (see the full list here).
Expanding the PMSOL list to include the occupations listed above would create more opportunities for foreign talent to come to Australia through the travel exemption pathway with fast-tracked visa processing. People in the specific occupations mentioned in the Report as well as those in related professions could qualify for travel exemptions and work visas if the additional occupations are added to the PMSOL.
Individuals and businesses don’t have to perfectly fit into PMSOL occupations to receive a travel exemption. (link to case study blog?). Travel exemptions are also available for critical care workers and critical industries.
Whilst visa eligibility criteria are clearly defined in the law and immigration policy, the guidelines for travel exemptions are evolving and can offer some flexibility for businesses to bring skilled talent to Australia where it can be shown there is a critical need – so it can be worth applying, even if your circumstances are not clear cut.
How the changes help the Australian economy and businesses
Australia has been fortunate economically, despite the pandemic. While many people temporarily lost work at the start of COVID-19, a large portion of these jobs have recovered. However, many skilled workers left the country due to COVID and have concerns about how long they would be separated from family and friends. This left Australia with a shortage of skilled workers in many areas. Now that we’re on the path toward recovery, skilled migration is a strong focus for bringing back lost talent and encouraging new entrepreneurial pursuits.
The country is in an excellent position to attract foreign talent. Our strong COVID-19 response led to positive results, and if the PMSOL expansion happens quickly, people in needed professions will get priority processing for travel exemptions and visas.
Apart from the specific categories mentioned in the inquiry, there’s also a strong need in advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences, financial services, and technology. Focusing on these cutting-edge sectors will help:
- Create quality jobs in Australia
- Fill supply chain gaps
- Improve export opportunities for Australian businesses
- Create new opportunities for investment
- Increase productivity
It’s a win-win situation for all. Homegrown businesses benefit from having a larger pool of talent to draw from, while skilled migrants have the chance to use their skills abroad and eventually obtain permanent residency if they wish.
TMA can help with your migration needs
If you are interested in obtaining a travel exemption or would like to sponsor a skilled worker (foreign talent) from abroad, TMA can help. We understand your business and we can develop a compelling business case based on your specific needs and circumstances. During the past 12 months, we have had a strong record of success with travel exemptions, and we pride ourselves on helping clients secure fast approval for exemptions and visas. Even if you’re unsure about your eligibility, please reach out to see how we can help.