Australia

Exclusive: Special visas offered to regions with skill shortages

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The focus on regions as well as industries opens up a new pathway for overseas workers looking to come to Australia.

Australian regions with niche skills shortages are being earmarked for "boutique" visa deals offered by the Turnbull government, SBS News can reveal. 

There are already 322 special labour agreements in place with certain businesses and industries across the country, but the Minister for Citizenship Alan Tudge has said he wants to go further and do deals based on geographical location.

Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge (AAP)
Minister for Citizenship, Alan Tudge.
AAP

Northern Queensland and the Goldfields in Western Australia’s southeast are two regions most likely to benefit within months.

“In north Queensland, they've got a thriving tourism industry and they've got requirements for things like Chinese-speaking scuba diving instructors," Mr Tudge told SBS News.

“In the Goldfields, they've got a shortage of drillers. They've got a shortage of people who can work on some of the nearby farms and we want to be able to ensure that those skills gaps can be met so that those businesses can continue to grow." 

The visa deals for those regions are expected to be in place by the end of the year. Which other areas may benefit and how many visas may be available has not been confirmed. 

What is a boutique visa? 

Boutique arrangements are granted at the government’s discretion when there are vacancies for niche positions that cannot be filled locally and when that particular job does not fall within the Skills Shortage List of more than 600 occupations eligible for skilled visa categories.

Companies must demonstrate they are unable to find local workers by advertising nationally first.

In the majority of cases, visa holders are given a pathway to permanent residency.

"These boutique arrangements which we can enter into allow us to have very personalised arrangements for particular companies but the essence is still the same: A, we're prioritising Australians first and the company has to demonstrate that there's no Australian available. B, they still need to satisfy the criteria which will be set out in the agreement," Mr Tudge said.

“Every agreement is unique and is boutique and it's tailored specifically for the company or for the region taking into account the particular skills shortages which they have and the requirements which they need.”

Aged care workforce given boost

Melbourne aged care centre Fronditha Care is one of dozens of businesses which has been granted boutique visa deals to boost staff numbers.

The centre has employed 22 Greek aged care workers so far and has been granted an extra 60 special visas - known as the TSS (Temporary Skill Shortage) visa - to hire more bilingual staff.

Greek aged care worker Jenny with a Fronditha care resident
Greek aged care worker Jenny is working in Australia under a special visa deal at Fronditha Care.
SBS News

“They're able to relate to our residents. They also help with the transfer of information to other colleagues who don't speak Greek,” the centre's CEO George Lekakis told SBS News.

“We think there's going to be very significant demand for Greek-speaking personal carers because when you look at the data there's about 27,000 people in Australia of Greek heritage who don't speak English today and typically they're nearly all above the age of 60,” Mr Tudge said.

Fronditha Care is home to dozens of elderly Greek migrants who have either reverted back to their first language as they have aged or never quite grasped a hold of English in the first place.

“If someone is irritated, agitated or in extreme cases, aggressive, the language can calm them down,” Greek care worker Dimitra Xexaki said.

“A lot of them, due to dementia or due to ageing, they're forgetting their English.

“The Greek language builds trust with the residents.”

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