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You could be forgiven for thinking that those with any ambition of entering Australia on a permanent or temporary visa, stand more chance of getting a seat on Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin rocket ship to the edge of space. The media has frequently projected Australia as being a ‘closed country’, unable to even repatriate its own citizens, with around 36,000 nationals registered with the government to fly home (Source: BBC) and arrivals to Australia capped at 3,035 a week currently (source: News.com.au). Despite this narrative, the Department of Home Affairs is seeking to address the critical skills shortage to support Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19. Whilst immigration has been a path less trodden of late, there are still steppingstones candidates and clients in the Allied Health and Medical professions can utilise.

It’s fair to say that the team at Aussie Locums has had an extraordinary year, with aged care facility closures and border restrictions making locum placements even more challenging than before. However, wherever there has been a problem, we have found solutions that benefit both our clients and candidates. And immigration is no different. Two recent examples include assisting an Occupational Therapist from the Czech Republic join a much-loved practice in Launceston, Tasmania, and another from Hong Kong who started a placement in Toowoomba. With companies willing to sponsor and the Commonwealth’s National Skills Commission seeking to support the labour market with the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL) and Designated Area Migration Agreements (DAMA), there is light at the end of the tunnel for those wishing to come down under.

What options do candidates and clients have?

In short, anyone planning to arrive in Australia on a temporary visa requires a travel exemption that would allow them to enter the country. If you have been successfully granted a visa, and your profession is on the critical skills and sectors list, obtaining a travel exemption shouldn’t be an issue. However, finding flights and competing with an extremely low quota on arrivals into the country, may require patience and flexibility. Anecdotally we’ve heard from candidates who have been able to secure flights at relatively normal prices and in sensible timeframes but in contrast, we’ve also heard from candidates who have experienced the exact opposite.

Whilst the PMSOL has very specific medical specialisms which would aid doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners, the Critical Skills and Sectors features Health and Aged Care, which would enable Allied Health Professionals to secure a travel exemption once they have a visa.

One of our partners who we’ve been working closely with for a long time, Immigration Gurus, is seeing a shift politically, with increasing demand for key skills to be brought in.

“If people are looking to move to Australia from overseas, PMSOL is an excellent solution that provides rapid processing, taking weeks rather than months. With employers seeking to fill key roles and an increase in overseas professionals seeking to move away from countries that have been dramatically impacted by the pandemic, PMSOL makes the process a lot easier for both parties. In return, the employer benefits from a full-time employee for three to four years, whilst the candidate gets to experience our amazing country”, Joshua Ferreira, Migration Agent at Immigration Gurus.

“There are also currently seven DAMAs in place across Australia which provide access to more overseas workers, enabling regional areas such as Far North Queensland and the Northern Territory to respond to their unique labour requirements, and giving them access to a much broader international workforce. Like the PMSOL, DAMA is an employer-sponsored visa program, which can be open to highly skilled professionals aged up to 55 years in some professions and in the majority of cases, is a pathway to permanent residency” adds Joshua.

Creative solutions to ongoing shortages

Pre-Covid, overseas born migrants living in Australia accounted for 29.8% of the population, the highest level since the 1800s (source: ABS.gov.au) however, in the 2019/20 financial year, net migration fell by close to 50,000 to just over 194,000. Naturally, it is anticipated that these figures will decline again for the 2020/21 financial year, so recruiters like ourselves and employers need to work creatively to fill an ever-increasing gap between supply and demand.

The shortage of labour in the Aged Care sector alongside increasing demand for Allied Health professionals, has been a growing concern for the industry, way before the pandemic began. Those on temporary visas with the right skill set and experience often made the perfect locum candidates. The employer benefited from a high-quality locum, whilst the candidate was able to explore the beauty Australia has to offer.

However, with Working Holiday Visas nose diving from over 110,000 in 2020 to only 24,000 second year visas in 2021, and Student Visas reducing dramatically too (source: Scanlon Institute), the industry needs some creative solutions.

“It is estimated that are approximately one million temporary visa holders in Australia at the moment and there is a considerable effort being made to enable these people to stay. Add to this the fact that some of these visa holders may not wish to return home, particularly if their country they are from is struggling to handle outbreaks. With COVID-19 visa concessions and Working Holiday Maker Visa holders now including healthcare and medical sectors to apply for 2nd and 3rd year WHM visas, there is an option for employers to continue to provide their services with visiting professionals.” states Joshua from Immigration Gurus.

With WHM visa holders able to work in critical sectors for longer than six months, and student visa holders able to work longer hours than typically granted, this will help keep visiting locums active and health care facilities in action.

It’s a candidate’s market

Candidates who have experience are highly sought after in Australia, and even in these tough times, should be able to gain permission to enter the country. Employers are increasingly flexible and looking to support new recruits with their flights and quarantine costs. And whilst the pandemic has exaggerated the already short supply of Allied Health and Medical professionals, it is likely that this support from both the Commonwealth and the industry will continue. Similarly, we anticipate the demand for overseas professionals to migrate to Australia will see a dramatic increase once international travel returns.