Hundreds of temporary visa holders have been blocked from returning to Australia because of tough international border restrictions imposed to limit spread of COVID-19.
The role of skilled migration in Australia’s coronavirus recovery has become a point of debate, with the nation's unemployment rate predicted to reach 13 per cent by the end of the year.
Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said the targeted exemptions would support the nation’s health and economic recovery from the pandemic.
“Our priority is getting Australians back into work,” Mr Tudge said.
“But we also need key health workers to help fight the virus and skilled migrants who are going to be job multipliers, to help the economy recover.”
Under the proposal, prioritised exemptions will be given to 17 occupations on a Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List, which the government says will be reviewed regularly.
The list of sponsored skilled workers would include chief executives and managing directors, construction project managers, mechanical engineers, doctors, psychiatrists, nurses and IT professionals.
The government says this process will be complemented by strengthened labour market testing requirements.
Labor’s Home Affairs spokesperson Kristina Keneally said the government should focus its attention on training Australians to meet these skill shortages.
“While we accept as a country skilled migration where there is a skill shortage,” she told reporters.
“The real challenge for this government is to outline how they’re going to provide the skills and training for Australians to fill those skill gaps.”
Currently, temporary visa holders are required to apply for travel exemptions based on compassionate or compelling reasons to travel to Australia.
The government is hailing the priority exemption list as a first step towards a return to skilled migration, which has stalled during the pandemic.
But former deputy secretary of the immigration department Abul Rizvi said a backlog of almost 19,000 Australians and permanent residents wanting to return means skilled entries will likely remain limited.
“I don’t see a recovery in skilled temporary entry anytime soon,” he told SBS News.
The government has imposed a cap of around 4,000 travellers returning each week in order to ease pressure on quarantine facilities.
Australia's net migration intake is set to fall 85 per cent this financial year because of restrictions on international travel.
Mr Rizvi said immigration can still play an “important” role in the nation’s recovery from the pandemic.
“Absolutely the (economic) impact will be substantial,” he told SBS News.
"I think (migration) can play an important role but it has to have a sensible overarching strategy."
The government said existing skilled migration occupation lists would remain, but the following occupations would be prioritised.
- Chief Executive or Managing Director
- Construction Project Manager
- Mechanical Engineer
- General Practitioner
- Resident Medical Officer
- Medical Practitioner
- Registered Nurse (Aged Care)
- Registered Nurse (Critical Care and Emergency)
- Registered Nurse (Medical)
- Registered Nurse (Mental Health)
- Registered Nurse (Perioperative)
- Registered Nurses nec
- Developer Programmer
- Software Engineer
- Maintenance Planner