Businesses in regional areas will soon be able to draw on refugees to fill skill shortages under a deal struck between the federal government and the Palmer United Party.
Legislation introduced to Parliament yesterday by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison will see temporary protection visas reintroduced after they were abolished by the Labor government in 2008.
While Labor opposes the move, the legislation is likely to pass the Senate because it is supported by mining magnate Clive Palmer – whose Palmer United Party senators control the balance of power.
In a statement, Morrison said the new visas would not provide a pathway to a permanent protection visa in Australia.
“Temporary protection visas do not include family reunion or a right to re-enter Australia,” he said.
“Holders will have access to targeted support arrangements including work rights, access to employment services and mutual obligation, access to Medicare and income support, torture and trauma counselling, translating and interpreting services, complex case support and access to education for school aged children.”
Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business Australia, told SmartCompany he thought the new temporary protection visas would lead to positive outcomes for small businesses in regional areas – especially when it comes to addressing skill shortages.
“Migrants and refugees have always been proven to be really good workers,” says Strong.
“Their attitude is good and they’re really happy. There are issues around language and culture that need to be considered by the employer, but my experience and understanding is that over the past 100 years or so in Australia, communities are really welcoming.”
Strong says while migrants have been traditionally used for manual labour in regional areas – for example in the construction or fruit picking industries – it is important not to dismiss the talents of refugees coming into Australia.
“They might bring something new to a hospitality outlet and then you have the chains and the outlets that have a very good training process around them,” he says.
Strong points out that local government can play an important role in providing support for both small businesses and migrants working in regional areas.
“Local government is going to be really important in this,” he says. “If they can set up a mechanism for identifying what skills the migrants have, that might help out employers find who they need.”
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It is not yet clear what obligations businesses will have to meet while employing someone under the proposed temporary protection visas.
However, the Immigration Minister has announced those who hold a temporary protection visa and work in regional areas without income support for three-and-a-half years will be eligible for a further temporary visa. The ‘safe haven enterprise visa’ will be valid for five years and, like the new temporary protection visa, will not include family reunion or the right to leave or return to Australia.
Strong says a potential issue with temporary protection visas is that migrants will work in a regional area for a short period of time and then return to a major city.
“But that’s a risk with anybody with small business,” he says. “You employ a young person and they move away to the city. If you can get someone and keep someone for one or two years you’d be pretty happy.”