Gina Rinehart’s recent coup in gaining visas for 1,700 workers to staff a mining project in Western Australia has put skilled migration back on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers.
The question for the leaders of companies facing staff shortages is whether they can they do the same.
They can’t, or at least, not in the same way, according to Fred Molloy, a registered migration agent and recruitment consultant with migration services firm Konnecting.
“The [Enterprise Migration Agreements used by Rinehart] are only for very large projects,” he says. By far the most common scheme employers use to recruit overseas workers remains the 457 visa.
A union backlash didn’t stop Rinehart from being granted the rights to bring in 1,700 migrant workers for her Roy Hill development.
Business leaders and many independent observers have welcomed the deal, highlighting the necessity of such agreements to feed Western Australia’s demand for workers.
While an easing of the labour shortage in mining is likely to loosen the shortages in other parts of the country, many Australian employers are still feeling the squeeze. The engineering profession alone has a documented shortfall of 20,000 employees.
To fill their skills shortages, businesses are increasingly looking overseas, Molloy says. There were 44,345 employer sponsored visas granted in 2010-11.
The rising demand, although strong, isn’t uniform, Molloy says. “There’s much more demand in Western Australia and Queensland, followed probably by South Australia and the Northern Territory. The sectors we’re seeing demand for are engineering, trades, medical workers and various specialist roles.”
Most skilled migration in Australia comes as a result from business demand, either from individual businesses or states, rather than skilled people requesting to move here.
This means businesses facing skills shortages have to take the initiative themselves to source workers overseas, rather than wait for migrants to come to them.
The time taken to recruit and do the paperwork to bring across a worker from overseas is highly variable, taking anywhere from a week to six months, depending on the industry.
There are three main classes of visas business use to sponsor foreign workers. (We’ll add EMA’s to the mix, though they aren’t intended for any but the largest of businesses.)
Temporary Business Sponsorships, aka 457 visas
- By far the most commonly used vehicle for bringing workers into Australia.
- Grants a work visa for up to four years.
- Sponsored workers must have experience in the industry, and have proficient English language skills.
- Three factors affect what salaries can be offered to overseas workers. Firstly, their salary cannot be less than that offered to local workers doing the same job. Secondly, their salary must be higher than $49,330. But, should their salary be more than $180,000 a year, there is no requirement for it to be equal to others in the workplace.
- Families can be included in the application.
Regional Sponsored Skilled Migration Scheme (RSMS)
- This scheme is intended to help employers needing regional workers to fill skilled positions they can’t permanently fill locally.
- Applies only to full-time, permanent positions in rural areas.
- Sponsored workers must have good English ability, relevant qualifications, and be under 50 years old, though it is possible to apply for an exemption.
Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS)
- This is a permanent visa scheme requiring a nomination from an Australian employer to fill a full-time skilled position.
- Those sponsored must be under 50 years old, and have good English ability, though it is possible to apply for an exemption. Usually a skills assessment is part of this, as is an assessment of recent work experience in the nominated occupation.
- Positions filled must meet minimum salary levels, updated annually. From June 2011, most occupations required a $49,330 minimum salary, the same as the minimum for 457 visas.
- From July 1 this year, the Living Away from Home Allowance (LAFHA) for those on working visas will be abolished. Molloy says he thinks this may make permanent arrangements like the ENS more popular.
Enterprise Migration Agreements (EMAs)
- EMA’s only apply to very large projects, and are granted on a case-by-case basis.
- The projects have to be worth more than $2 billion, and to employ more than 1,500 workers at their peak.
- They’re a new visa class, first proposed in 2010 to help fill the chronic skills shortage plaguing many mining developments.
- Steve Knott, from the Australian Mines and Metal Association, told the ABC only “10 to 13 [Australian] projects” fit the requirements. According to the Immigration department, four requests for EMAs have been received to date, with Rinehart’s being only one fully considered.