Australia is crying out for more care workers but coronavirus is causing visa delays

Aged and disability service providers have told SBS News they hope the federal government will include the proposed care roles in the Skilled Migration Occupation List to help boost their staffing with workers from overseas.

Shweta Sharma

Shweta Sharma manages Sri Om Care. Source: SBS News

For many like Dipak Sud, who has lived with Parkinson's disease for almost two decades, regular home care visits have changed his life.

The 69-year-old, who is originally from India, uses Sri Om Care, a home care services organisation which caters specifically to multicultural communities. 

"The visits have given me more confidence, even though I have a medical problem, it's helped me feel that I am no less than anybody else," he told SBS News from his home in Sydney. 

"The workers that come here speak the same language, which is very important to me. It means I can talk to them  like I talk to friends or my family."  

Dipak Sud has lived with Parkinson's disease for 18 years.
Dipak Sud has lived with Parkinson's disease for 18 years. Source: SBS News

Workers visit Mr Sud two to three times a week and assist him to do exercises as well as help with cooking and cleaning. 

But the manager of Sri Om Care, Shweta Sharma, says the organisation has struggled in the past with finding the right staff. 

"It has been quite a challenge for us since we started to provide home care services almost three years ago," she said. 

"Particularly as we cater for a migrant community, we do look for people who have other language skills as well. 

"The aged care sector is a demanding industry and as people get older and older, the number of people to cater for also is growing." 

Shweta Sharma
Shweta Sharma manages Sri Om Care. Source: SBS News

It is a sentiment which is shared across many in the aged and disability sectors. 

"To be able to attract and retain and develop staff in the aged care sector is fundamentally important to good quality care," said chief executive of Leading Age Services Australia, Sean Rooney.

"One of the challenges that we find, particularly in rural and regional areas, is access to people that are adequately skilled and qualified, as well as having the appropriate temperament to care for older Australians." 

The Department of Education, Skills and Employment have in their latest recommendations, identified aged and disability carers, nursing support workers and personal care assistants as categories where there are skills shortages in Australia. 

The recommendations were made to the Department of Home Affairs and a revised Skilled Migration Occupation List - detailing specific occupations Australian needs to fill with people from abroad - was expected to be released in March. 

In a statement, a department spokesperson told SBS News the scheduled changes to the Skilled Migration Occupation List have been delayed "in light of the economic and labour market impacts arising from the COVID-19 pandemic". 

Mr Rooney told SBS News the government's identification that the caring sector needs assistance from skilled migrants is consistent with the needs of the sector. 

"There are over 360,000 passionate and professional workers in the aged care workforce," he said. 

"However, we know that we need to grow our workforce by around 100,000 new workers in the coming five years, that skilled migration will play a role in ensuring that we have adequate supply of passionate professional, skilled people for our sector." 

Immigration at a standstill

Melbourne-based migration agent Paul Dizon said his clients have experienced lengthy delays since the COVID-19 pandemic began. He said there has been a two to three month delay for those applying for temporary visas and a five to eight month delay on permanent visas. 

"Most of my clients, especially here in Australia have been quite anxious because they're uncertain about their  visa options in the future," he said. "They are particularly worried about how the pandemic is going to affect their opportunities going forward."

Mr Dizon said that expected visa-related changes which take place usually around the beginning of the financial year have not been made. 

"Usually visa application fees, as well some the criteria or requirements in relation to visa applications, may be slightly changed or updated, but none of this has happened this year," he said. 

"Many of my clients, especially those who are in the aged care and disability and community care services were anticipating that these roles would be added to the Skilled Migration Occupation List and there would be opportunities to apply for employer sponsorship or even permanent residency through regional or state migration." 

Hessah Ubina is a former nurse from the Philippines is in Australia on a student visa.

She has been closely watching for the Department of Home Affairs to update their list of opportunities. 

Hessah Ubina
Hessah Ubina worked as a nurse in the Philippines and is in Australia on a student visa. Source: Supplied

"If the rules are implemented it will bring hope to many individuals like myself to have the opportunity to provide healthcare to the elderly," she said. 

"I came to Australia for the quality of education and if there were opportunities to work and stay for longer then why not? I have to think about the future for myself and my family."

The Federal Government has made a number of changes to deal with labour changes related to the pandemic for temporary visa holders.

Temporary visa arrangements to support temporary visa holders to work and remain in critical sectors including health and aged care, childcare, disability services, agriculture and food processing was enacted in April. 

5 min read
Published 2 July 2020 at 6:58am
By Lin Evlin