The war for talent: skill shortages and COVID-19

23 August 2021

Maria Jockel, Global and National Immigration Leader, Legal Principal, Accredited Specialist, Immigration Law |

What can businesses do?

Australia has experienced the greatest economic shock since the Great Depression with Australia's border closure in March 2020.

With a pandemic–induced deficit, unprecedented economic stimulus, national debt estimated to be at $1298 billion in 2023-24 and a 97% drop in arrivals compared with pre-COVID levels, there are now critical labour skill shortages across industry sectors.

Australia's economic recovery continues to be disrupted by snap and extended state lockdowns and border closures as Australia grapples with state-based approaches to the pandemic.

Stage D of the Federal Government’s National Plan to Transition Australia's National COVID-19 Response proposes that with more than 80% of the eligible population vaccinated, our international borders will open, quarantine for high-risk inbound travel will continue and community cases with ongoing restrictions or lockdowns should be minimised.

In the meantime - beyond the jab and until the pandemic becomes an endemic and we learn to live with COVID-19 consistent with influenza and other infectious diseases, businesses must find a way to meet their skilled workforce needs.

The closure of Australia's borders and the ongoing transformation of the management of our borders and the Migration Program means an increasingly selective and targeted temporary and permanent entry visa system.

The September 2020 Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL), which identified 17 occupations to fill critical skill needs to support Australia's economic recovery from COVID19, has grown to 44 occupations.

Occupations on the PMSOL are considered to be critical for the recovery of the Australian economy and are eligible for exemption from Australia's inwards travel restriction policy.

Nomination and visa applications relating to PMSOL occupations are prioritised under the Minister of Immigration’s Directions 92 and 93. Priority processing applies to the Global Talent Employer Sponsored, the Agriculture Sector Occupations, the Critical Sector occupations, the 457/482 Temporary Skill Shortage, 494 Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional), 186 Employer Nomination Scheme, 187 Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme and such like.

Structural reforms continue to focus on protecting and creating jobs and training, investment in advanced manufacturing, infrastructure, a digital economy, health, research and development and other critical industry sectors. The aim is to drive Australia's economic recovery.

With Australian citizens and permanent residents requiring approval of the Outward Travel Exemptions before they can depart Australia, non-citizens and permanent residents requiring Inward Travel Exemptions before travelling to Australia (even if they hold a valid entry visa), and the Australian Border Force Commissioner Guidelines changing from time to time - what does this mean for businesses struggling to meet workforce needs?

The impact of the border closure is unprecedented as Australia has historically relied on the Migration Programme to underpin its economic prosperity and drive population growth.

Australia's Migration Laws are a labyrinth (some 99 visa categories, over 3000 pages of legislation, extensive Department of Home Affairs’ internal policy guidelines to guide decision-makers) which is a constant challenge, as are the ongoing restrictive reforms.

However businesses can still meet targeted skilled workforce needs, recruit people with critical skills and achieve the processing of exemptions to travel restrictions which supports critical sectors.

Some 7,000 migration agents raised around $881million in revenue in the 2020/2021 financial year. The Department of Home Affairs raised approximately $2.35 billion in visa fees, fines and levies for the same period. An overwhelming number of applications continue to be lodged and many are refused.

What's the answer?

Seek out pre-eminent specialist advice so you can get the best outcome to meet skilled workforce needs, while Australia's borders remain closed and Stage D comes into force.

Despite the pandemic, and Australia's first recession in almost 30 years, Australia is still the lucky country.

Australia continues to be resilient and well-positioned for economic recovery. In the meantime, the ‘war for talent’ and skill shortages mandate getting the best advice, at the right time, so you can meet your talent needs.

Please contact Maria Jockel, Global and National Immigration Leader, Legal Principal and Accredited Specialist in Immigration Law for expert and honest advice in addressing skill shortages in an ever-changing world.