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  • COVID-19 is having a serious impact on Australian immigration and visa processing.
  • The ability of business to sponsor overseas workers will be critical to Australia’s economic recovery.
  • Long-term changes to the ability of Australian employers to sponsor workers as a result of COVID-19 are unlikely.

Australia’s post-COVID fortunes hinge on rapid and sustained economic growth. That will simply not be possible without employers being able to sponsor foreign workers from overseas. But COVID-19 has shut our borders and created an army of unemployed Australians, making people movement much more difficult for employers and a political issue for government. So, what will COVID-19 mean for our immigration laws and policies, and the ability of employers to access the skilled people they will need?

Why employers sponsor overseas workers

In our experience, employers sponsor workers from overseas because they cannot find enough suitably qualified skilled Australians to fill the available roles, or because they need to transfer critical skills already within their business overseas.

The sponsorship process is not cheap. A four-year subclass 482 Temporary Skill Shortage visa (‘TSS’) could cost an employer around $10,000 before legal fees and impose legal obligations punishable with civil penalties of up to $63,000 per breach Migration Act 1958, s 140K). Nor is it a way to lower wage costs. Employers are obliged to pay sponsored workers no less favourably than an equivalent Australian (Migration Regulations 1994, r 2.72(5)(d)). Last year, the average remuneration for sponsored worker was $105,300. It is also to be used as a last resort. Sponsoring employers are, in most cases, required to demonstrate they have conducted extensive Labour Market Testing to find a suitable Australian before being approved to sponsor a foreign worker (Migration Act 1958, s 140GBA).

In 2018/19, employers sponsored 41,221 temporary workers for TSS visas according to Department of Home Affairs statistics. In the same year the workforce in Australia was some 12,890,000 strong according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The most commonly sponsored occupations were Software Engineers (5.4 per cent), Cooks and Chefs (5 per cent), ICT Business Analysts (4.5 per cent), Resident Medical Officers (3.9 per cent), Developer Programmers (3.3 per cent) and Management Consultants (3.1 per cent).

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