Miners, nurses and baristas first to be welcomed back

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The Australian government is planning the return of foreign workers in the resources, healthcare, agriculture, infrastructure and engineering by Christmas to fill skill shortages.

Hospitality businesses struggling to find staff to serve customers. Working holidaymakers will be welcomed back as a matter of urgency.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told The Australian Financial Review, “We know there is a significant skills shortage here in Australia and we’re doing all that we can to make sure that we put the right structures in place to support these businesses that need workers”.

More than half of employers looking to hire workers reported difficulties recruiting staff in September, according to the National Skills Commission, while one in five occupations is suffering from skills shortages.

And as governments pump billions of dollars into infrastructure projects to boost the economy, a report by Infrastructure Australia last month warned the sector faced a shortage of 93,000 engineers, project managers and specialist tradespeople by 2023.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Andrew McKellar said employers were reporting skills shortages across the board and the borders needed to be opened to foreign workers.

“There is a real sense of urgency across businesses that we need a clear signal from the federal government on how quickly we can open to skilled labour,” he said.

“Without foreign workers, it is going to be a handbrake on economic performance for the next 12 months.”

The government is working on proposals to allow foreign workers to enter almost two years after the international border was shut but is focusing on “quality” to fill jobs rather than an open-slather approach.

Since NSW, Victoria and the ACT stopped requiring fully vaccinated travellers to quarantine, the government’s priority has been on allowing Australian citizens and permanent residents to return, although Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday skilled migrants would be allowed back in before Christmas.

‘Other sectors the government will target include infrastructure, construction and engineering. In addition to the massive investment in new roads and rail projects, a booming property market is fuelling demand for new dwellings, while computer engineers are also in high demand.

“We have a lot of data on the skills shortages that we have and we have various lists we work to in terms of who we will prioritise to come into the country,” Ms Andrews said.

“Having said that, I wouldn’t rule out at all that we will look at specific cohorts that are not necessarily prioritised under our skills list.”

Ms Andrews said the “absolute worst-case scenario” facing businesses was they had to shut their doors because of a lack of staff.

But she warned the push to increase skilled migration was being made more difficult because the states and territories have different quarantine arrangements.

“With NSW and Victoria open there are opportunities for skilled workers to come in and support those states,” she said.

The hospitality sector is also screaming out for workers, with predictions of almost 100,000 vacancies.

Tourism Minister Dan Tehan said the government was planning to allow working holidaymakers to return to Australia this year. They would take priority above foreigners coming here purely for a holiday.

Source: Australian Financial Review

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