- The federal government has made it easier for GPs, teachers, early educators and aged-care nurses with a lower grasp of English, less experience or lower qualifications to apply for work in Australia as it casts a wider net overseas to fill the national skills shortage
- To be invited they must have achieved a points threshold – varying by occupation – with points awarded for age (there is an age limit of 45 and fewer points for those over 40), level of English language proficiency, educational qualifications and work experience.
- The threshold for general practitioners was lowered from 90 points in the last round to 65 points.
- The annual skills priority list released last week shows the number of occupations in shortage rose from 153 to 286 over the past year
- Registered nurses are the most in demand, and the aged care sector has been hemorrhaging staff
The federal government has made it easier for GPs, teachers, early educators and aged-care nurses with a lower grasp of English, less experience or lower qualifications to apply for work in Australia as it casts a wider net overseas to fill the national skills shortage.
The shift has created concerns of exploitation, and that some workers in in-demand fields will enter Australia under the false impression they qualify for their desired job when they don’t meet extra requirements posed by professional registration bodies.
Potential skilled migrants must submit an expression of interest to work in Australia to then be invited to apply for certain visas. To be invited they must have achieved a points threshold – varying by occupation – with points awarded for age (there is an age limit of 45 and fewer points for those over 40), level of English language proficiency, educational qualifications and work experience.
As part of the August invitation round, the points required for various professionals to receive an invitation were reduced significantly. Secondary school teachers, who needed 90 points in April to be invited to apply for a visa only need 65 points, as did early childhood teachers and aged-care nurses, both of which needed 85 points months before. The threshold for general practitioners was lowered from 90 points in the last round to 65 points.
Almost 13,000 overseas workers received an invitation to apply for a permanent skilled visa in August, the biggest invitation round since the pandemic, targeting occupations in key areas of demand, with more than a quarter of those new invitations resulting in an application being lodged, mostly in the health sector.
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said the government was revising “ministerial directions” to plug the skills shortages the country is facing, though he didn’t elaborate.
“The former government neglected the immigration system. For nine years, including under former home affairs minister [Peter] Dutton, Australia was held back by a lack of action on visa processing,” Giles said.
The government has piled resources into processing visa applications, finalizing almost two million between June and mid-September, and pledged to increase the annual permanent migration cap from 160,000 to 195,000 following last month’s jobs summit.
A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said the points awarded for each factor had remained unchanged since 2019, as had the “pass mark” – 65 points – at which workers can lodge an expression of interest for the skilled independent visa and skilled work regional visas.
“All points-tested applicants must demonstrate at least a competent level of English – higher depending on the occupational requirement – and have had their skills positively assessed by the relevant assessing authority,” the spokesperson said.
But former Department of Immigration deputy secretary Abul Rizvi said there were several occupations, whose invitation threshold they’d “driven to the lowest level they could, which is 65”.
“If you lower secondary school teachers from 90 to 65, you’ve obviously allowed in people with lesser skills, lesser English, etc,” Rizvi said. “Basically, anyone who had an EOI in the system in the right occupation has been given an invitation.”
The annual skills priority list released last week shows the number of occupations in shortage rose from 153 to 286 over the past year. Employers were advertising 301,000 job vacancies in August, up by 37 per cent on the same month last year.
Registered nurses are the most in demand, and the aged care sector has been haemorrhaging staff, with providers warning they will have to close unless they can find tens of thousands more staff.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation federal secretary Annie Butler said the union’s concern was that while the government was making it easier for people to get to Australia, they might not fully meet the professional registration requirements.
“We don’t want people to be given a false impression they’re going to find it easier to get registered here and find out they can’t and end up getting exploited, and end up getting used as personal care workers [instead of nurses],” Butler said.
NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos called it “a recipe for failure”.
“Failure for the individuals concerned, and failure for our students, for students who deserve nothing less than a qualified teacher for every lesson, every day,” he said.
The government has also moved to expand the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme, predominantly used for farm labour, to fill vacancies in aged care.
Diplomats will meet with East Timor authorities after viewing footage of foreign workers under the scheme specifically warning them against joining unions upon arriving in Australia to work.
Minister for the Pacific, Pat Conroy, said the government was concerned to see footage that appears to show inaccurate information being given to East Timorese workers before their departure for Australia.
“All PALM scheme workers in Australia are protected by the same workplace rights and laws as Australian workers, including freedom to join a union and the same pay and conditions,” Conroy said, adding Australia’s embassy in East Timor planned to meet local authorities to clarify any misunderstanding.
United Workers Union executive director of farms, Jannette Armstrong, who raised the issue with the government, said for the program to work effectively, “basic rights and protections, including the right to join the union, are built in to ensure that workers – in an industry with a long history of exploitation – are paid properly, treated with respect and safe.”
The Home Affairs spokesperson said Australia’s workplace laws and employee protections were applicable to all workers regardless of citizenship or visa status.