The Australian government is developing bulk migration visa agreements to cater for worker shortages across the country.
Mining firms and construction companies are negotiating new types of blanket labour arrangements to cover foreign workers.
Known as Enterprise Migration Agreements (EMA), these operate in a similar manner to the Regional Migration Agreements (RMA) already in use that allow businesses in a certain geographic location to come up with universal terms and conditions which can be applied across an area.
While they will not replace the use of individual 457 visas directly, the new migration agreements are designed to allow businesses to avoid having to fill out a string of successive applications when it is in need of a substantial number of migrant workers.
However the immigration visa arrangements are not available to all firms – the projects concerned have to have a minimum capital expenditure of $2 billion and ensure a peak number of permanent employees of at least 1,500.
When the agreements are finally ready for deployment, it could mean that resource projects can begin hiring migrant workers en masse – as the Courier Mail phrased it on February 14, “the booming mining industry could mean foreign workers will be flown directly by jumbo jet”.
Across the country the two-speed economy has begun to require more and more from the local workforce – with some experts predicting that an employment gap of 40,000 is expected to appear by 2020 without intervention as unemployed skilled workers become a rarity in engineering and construction.
It has been suggested by key industry figures that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship be allowed to authorise the use of fly-in fly-out arrangements for unskilled workers to help make up the difference between business needs and staffing availability.
However the Queensland minister for mining, Stirling Hinchliffe, said that the state government would prefer that local labour be utilised first, leaving international arrangements as a fall-back.
Hinchcliffe asserted: “I have given a very clear message to the companies involved … that we have a very high expectation about the role that Queenslanders will play in these projects.”