Australia will prioritise 60,000 permanent visa applications from offshore skilled migrants to tackle workforce shortages.
Australia is facing a backlog of almost one million visa applications across several visa categories, with the problem stemming from Covid-19 border closures and lockdowns.
New government figures revealed Australia currently has a backlog of 961,016 visa applications across all visa categories, more than half of which were submitted by skilled migrants outside Australia.
Of the 560,187 applications lodged by offshore skilled migrants, 57,906 were permanent visa applications, with another 13,806 applications belonging to the temporary skilled migration category.
Australia’s Department of Home Affairs has redirected resources and added more staff to work through the visa application backlogs.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil confirmed that the application backlog will be addressed by prioritising visa applications lodged by offshore skilled migrants, with a focus on health, education and aged care.
She said it is important to identify solutions to clear the application backlog within the system’s constraints.
Despite the government’s efforts to process pending applications, the backlog remains massive and this initiative only amounts to a first step, according to University of Sydney Associate Professor Anna Boucher.
She likened the 60,000 permanent visa applications set to be prioritised to ‘a drop in the ocean’ compared to a total backlog of almost a million visa applications.
She also said clearing all the permanent and temporary visa applications in the backlog would be nowhere near enough to cover the skills shortage in Australia.
Australia’s skilled migration program was capped at 160,000 places under the previous Scott Morrison administration, but the emergence of Covid-19 and border closures resulted in Australia’s net migration dropping to negative levels for the first time since World War II.
With Australia facing a rising labour shortage across the country, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said local businesses were desperately crying out for skilled workers, with the skills shortage proving to be a sturdy obstacle holding back Australia’s economy.
He also supported the initiative to prioritise skilled visa applications, saying the influx of skilled workers would be a smart thing to do.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce also urged the annual skilled migration program to be extended to 200,000 places to secure Australia’s economic recovery following the pandemic.