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Employing skilled migrants

Skills shortage solutions, while limited, include employing skilled migrants. We look at why and how SMEs should be employing skilled migrants to take advantage of overseas talent.

The announcement of a 30 percent boost to permanent residency places for skilled migrants in the recent budget announcement makes a strong statement about the Rudd Government’s approach to addressing long-term labour supply issues.

In 2007/8, 103,500 skilled migrants came to Australia as permanent residents. Many were recent Australian university foreign graduates who became on-shore migrants, some were off-shore migrants, fast-tracked into the country on the basis that they have skills and experience that certain sectors of the Australian market desperately need.

In addition, around 46,000 Temporary Business Long Stay (457) Visas were issued. Research by RT Kinnaird & Associates suggests that the health, manufacturing, construction and, to a lesser extent mining, sectors have been strong users and beneficiaries of the 457 program, although accurate information is not easy to find.

Australian business owners have an important role to play in ensuring the skilled migration program can work for them. As one of the major providers of employment and sources of productivity in Australia, an SME’s ability to use skilled migration as a labour resource will be one of the keys to ensuring that a positive boost in the long-term productivity of the nation is achieved.

There is no question the new Federal Government is trying to make it easier for business to hire skilled talent from overseas by streamlining processing times. This is due to the direction from the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Evans that a backlog of 457 visa applications be cleared by the end of June. Consequently, the number of 457 visas being processed has jumped by more than 50 percent each month.

In addition, the department is responding quickly to applications; if all visa documentation is in order, nomination and sponsorship approval can be received within 48 hours, compared to the previous three-to-four month wait before this new initiative was in place.

Yet there is a gap that still needs to be bridged between Australia’s skilled migration program and SMEs. LIVE IN australia.com has spoken to many businesses who indicate that a lack of available skills is limiting the growth of their business. Ironically, we are also in contact with many overseas skilled workers who indicate a willingness to work yet cannot find a sponsor. What this suggests to us is that the vast majority of business owners are reluctant to employ an individual that they cannot meet and talk to directly.

The issue of how Australian employers can take advantage of the skilled migration program starts with understanding exactly what commitment they’re expected to make as a sponsor. In its description of 457 sponsor obligations, some of the key items of interest to employers are the following requirements:

-Ensure the cost of return travel for a sponsored employee is covered
-Ensure that a sponsored person holds any licence, registration or membership that is mandatory for the performance of work by the person
-Pay all medical or hospital expenses for a sponsored person arising from treatment administered in a public hospital (other than expenses that are met by health insurance or reciprocal health care arrangements)
-Ensure that, if there is a gazetted minimum salary in force in relation to the nominated position occupied by the sponsored person, the person will be paid at least that salary
-Make any superannuation contributions required for a sponsored person while the sponsored person is in the business’s employment.

With these kinds of expectations in place, clearly an employer needs to be convinced that the skilled migrant they’re hiring will make a positive contribution and help the business grow, with the intention of delivering long-term value. With this in mind, business owners therefore need to understand that there are two distinct groups when it comes to skilled migration: on-shore migrants and off-shore migrants. 

On-shore migrants consist mostly of foreign students who graduate from Australian universities and are encouraged by the Australian Government to stay on. They’re a talented pool of future workers, but still very green when it comes to work experience and working successfully in Australia. Further training is required in which practical and applied skills still need to be learned.

Off-shore migrants by comparison, need to have far more experience than their on-shore counterparts to successfully apply for a permanent residency visa, and therefore represent a much more experienced, higher quality group of workers who can contribute to our nation’s economy more immediately.

To factor skilled migration into the business plan and maintain the quality of the current workforce, employers need to treat these two groups separately.

If recruiting on-shore skilled migrants, taking a fresh look at a more rigorous and sustained induction program can unlock the talent. This could involve higher levels of employee contact initially and participation in a designated induction program created by whoever handles HR in the business, or an outsourced company.

Encouragingly, Monash Professional (wholly owned by Monash University) has launched a 16-month program called The Professional Year as the first Government-approved training program to target this group. The program focuses on practical business skills, including business communication skills, and aims to make integration for skilled migrants new to the Australian workplace that much easier.

While the lack of direct contact with off-shore migrants can be an obstacle for employers as discussed previously, LIVE IN australia.com industry data clearly shows that off-shore skilled migrants are a better employment prospect to benefit a business immediately, whether they come to Australia as a permanent resident or under a 457 visa.

To maintain the immediate quality of a business’ workforce, it’s important to employ an HR or recruitment professional with the resources to filter and recruit off-shore workers. These companies have the methodology and systems in place to develop a shortlist from which candidates can be interviewed. What is critical though is that employers choose a firm that has a specific knowledge of their industry. The age of the generalist recruiter is coming to an end. Recruitment firms with specialised knowledge that focus on specific areas are the ones that will have the insight to know exactly what the requirements will be for a particular overseas candidate in relation to your business in Australia.

After visa approval has been granted, one of the defining characteristics in the pre-arrival phase is to help a skilled migrant set their expectations at an appropriate level. This means the employer needs to be in communication in regards to planning in advance, understanding issues that are important to the new employee, assist with moving arrangements, and to provide an itinerary covering the first 72 hours. For the new employee, this provides some security and confidence in the period leading up to their arrival. Most importantly, the skilled migrant knows there is someone in Australia acting in their interests.

The commitment from the SME sector will strengthen, as business owners begin to really understand and experience the changing nature of Australia’s workplace and they’ll adjust their expectations accordingly.

At the moment, employers need to tread carefully to be sure that their new foray into hiring a skilled migrant is a successful one. However, starting the process is important. With demographic data showing dramatic change in the availability of workers over the next decade, being the first to understand and draw on this skills supply opportunity holds long-term competitive benefits for a growing SME.

—Assyl Haldar is managing director of LIVE in Australia (www.liveinaustralia.com), an expert immigration and visa service and member of the Migration Institute of Australia.

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