Employers need flexibility to hire overseas workers

Any changes to the skilled migration system must not make it harder for businesses to access skilled labour quickly and efficiently, says WA’s peak business advocate.

The Federal Government announced on Tuesday it would scrap the Subclass 457 Visa for foreign workers and create a new temporary visa restricted to critical skills shortages.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the new visa will include mandatory criminal checks and tighter English language requirements.

“The new Temporary Skill Shortage Visa program will comprise two streams – Short Term and Medium Term – and will be underpinned by more focused occupation lists that are responsive to genuine skill needs and regional variations across Australia,” he says.

“Short term visas will be issued for two years, while medium term visas will be issued only for more critical skills shortages and for up to four years.

“Both streams will include mandatory labour market testing with limited exemptions; a new non-discriminatory workforce test; mandatory criminal history checks; a market salary rate assessment and a new two-year work experience requirement.”

Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia (CCI) Chief Executive Officer Deidre Willmott says WA businesses must still be able to access skilled workers in times of skill shortages – particularly in regional areas.

“Western Australian workplaces are home to many niche, technical skills that can take years to develop – when the economy is thriving, WA employers need access to these skills quickly so their businesses can grow and create more jobs for all workers,” she says.

“If these skills are unavailable locally, it is vital that employers have the flexibility to source these skills overseas – in the year to June 2012, WA employers made more than 16,000 applications for 457 visas.

“Mechanical Engineering Technicians and Civil Engineers were the most sought-after at the time, which reflected the period’s peak demand for mining skills.”

Willmott says training Australians should also be a priority and called on governments to address the drop in training numbers.

“While business does need prompt access to locally-unavailable skills, it is equally critical that Federal and State Governments commit to reinvigorating the training system – a locally-equipped workforce is extremely important to ensuring our economy is ready to respond to new growth areas, but since 2012, the number of Western Australians in training has dropped by more than 20 per cent,” she says.

“CCI calls on all levels of government to prioritise training reform to ensure WA has a skilled and capable workforce ready to meet the demands of business and investment in future.”

Wilmott says WA’s population growth traditionally comes from overseas migration, rather than interstate, so it is vital that we maintain as much flexibility in migration policies as possible.

“Australia also needs to make sure that we maintain reciprocity in migration programs – many young Australians are able to work overseas during their careers and we don’t want to reduce the opportunity for them to build those skills, as well as help grow trade between countries,” she says.

“CCI looks forward to hearing more detail of the new temporary visa program from the Commonwealth Government and will work with our Members to ensure the new system will allow businesses to efficiently fill short-term gaps as required.”

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