Australian business leaders have joined the premiers of New South Wales and Victoria in calling for improved skilled migration to Australia.
Businesses and understaffed sectors such as health and tourism have urged the Australian federal government to speed up approvals of skilled visas, which can have five-month waiting periods.
Groups such as the Business Council of Australia have also pushed for increased migration levels over the next two years to offset the slow arrival of foreign workers during the pandemic.
Hospitals and other health services in Australia have been struggling with labour shortages, which have been exacerbated by persistently high Covid cases, the early flu season and the lengthy elective procedure backlog.
Dr Omar Khorshid, president of the Australian Medical Association, called on the federal government to expedite recruiting overseas-trained doctors.
Addressing skills shortages in the health sector, Dr Khorshid said staff are having to work very long hours under extreme pressure – leading to burnout – and patients are suffering from operations being cancelled and services running at low capacities.
Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe said teacher shortages pre-dated Covid, while Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra said companies were being forced to operate with limited opening hours and skeletal staff.
Stephen Ferguson, head of the Australian Hotels Association (AHA), said precluding foreign workers from the job keeper scheme caused the industry to lose workers in 2020.
He also said that sending skilled workers back home due to the pandemic has caused Australia to be in a global race with other countries to recruit workers, especially as the world continues to open up.
Moreover, Ferguson said several members of AHA complained about skilled visas to Australia taking as much as five months to be approved, which further hampers the sector given that there are not enough trained Australians to fill vacancies.
Earlier, New South Wales premier Dominic Perrottet said he was working on recruiting the right people quickly with a targeted migration scheme.
He said many of Australia’s public service areas have suffered from a lack of available skills due to border closures and travel restrictions.
He urged other state premiers to identify such sectors with labour shortages and forward them to the commonwealth and said New South Wales and Victoria would be working closely with the prime minister to address these issues.
In addition, a spokesperson for the Victorian government said the state had a clear commitment to tackling the workforce shortages across the economy.