The recent announcement by the Australian and Western Australian governments that the Perth metropolitan area would no longer be classified as a major city, has been welcomed by businesses, skilled migrants and international students. This means that Perth sponsoring employers will gain additional access to the Regional Occupation List and will benefit from the two new regional visas, which will be introduced from 16 November this year.
Additionally, education providers are hopeful that international students will be attracted to the world's most remote capital city by the advantages that accompany study in a "regional" location—including five additional points for General Skilled Migration visas, access to an additional year on post-study visas and an opportunity to apply for scholarships of up to $15,000 per year to support study and living expenses associated with studying at a regional campus.
The news has come at a crucial time for Perth, as the region has been struggling with the competing pressures of filling the growing skills shortage in the resources and energy sectors, while at the same time, trying to attract international students.
In March of this year, Fragomen's Perth office hosted a client event, which covered several issues, including anticipated skilled labour shortages in Western Australia's minerals and resources sector, as well as strategies to address them to avoid the unsustainable growth and wage blow outs associated with the previous resources boom of the early 2000s. The event featured several industry leaders, including Paul Everingham, Chief Executive Officer of the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia; Raleigh Finlayson, the CEO of Saracen Gold and the President of the WA School of Mines Alumni; and Andrew McCluskey, the State Manager of Siemens—all of whom generously shared their experiences and vision.
In summary, the speakers warned of an expected skills shortage in the resources sector which, while lower than that experienced previously during the mining boom, would require a greater reliance on overseas skilled migration to ensure that projects can proceed. This is partly due to the significant number of infrastructure projects that are simultaneously happening on Australia's East Coast and lower levels of enrolments in the WA School of Mines, coupled with the lead times needed to ensure that graduates are job ready and the rapid digitalization of the resources sector, which is changing the skills profile that is needed.
Justin Gibbs, our Director of Government Relations for APAC, led the final session, which highlighted several practical issues that need to be addressed in order to strategically fill the anticipated and increasing labour shortages with skilled overseas labour, including calling for a review of occupation lists (which has now commenced) and the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) to ensure it remains relevant and can be utilised in the migration context.
In recent months, our Perth office has seen an increase in activity both by resources and energy companies, which are starting to prepare for the increased competition for skills. This is not surprising. In its forecast for 2019-2024 , the Australian Resources and Energy Group (AMMA) found that throughout Australia there are 57 projects worth $41 billion, either "committed" or considered "likely" by the Australian Government's Department of Industry, and which it predicts will demand nearly 21,000 on-site employees by 2024, including about 8700 mining plan operators, more than 2800 heavy diesel fitters and close to 4200 engineers.
The ability to rely on the Regional Occupation List and the new regional visas will allay some—but not all—concerns for the sponsors with whom we are working.
Migration options for international students
A year ago, I discussed the measures being introduced by the Western Australian State Government to try and attract more international students to the State. While the efforts were welcomed by the education industry, they were generally seen as not reaching far enough. However, the latest changes—and, in particular, the additional year available for the Temporary Graduate visa in the Post Study stream—are likely to lead to an increased interest for international students. In practical terms, the additional year will mean that international graduates would be able to attain the requisite experience they need to qualify for Temporary Skill Shortage visas.
The additional points for the regional study will also benefit those looking for a direct permanent migration pathway. The State Nomination option will also be extended to include vocational education and training (VET) graduates who complete their qualifications in Western Australia at Certificate III level or above from December 2019.
While the full details of the legislative changes underpinning the announcement are yet to be revealed, these exciting changes already appear to be presenting several new options.
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