‘Specialist skills’ visa could help secure much-needed hotel managers, says AA CEO

A new 10-year Migration Strategy, announced by Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neill on Monday, includes the introduction of a new skills visa, alongside tighter visa processes for migrant workers and international students.

Accommodation Australia CEO Michael Johnson said the migration strategy “implements a number of reforms which will improve the system, while recognising more work needs to be done”, pointing to the importance of further consultation on issues such as the chronic labour shortage in regional areas and changes to student visas.

Among the initiatives announced is a new four-year ‘Skills in Demand’ visa – divided into ‘specialist skills’, ‘core skills’ and ‘essential skills’ – which will replace the existing temporary skills shortage visa, in a bid to attract highly skilled workers to the Australian workforce.

The ‘specialist skills’ pathway will be open to eligible applicants earning at least $135,000 in any occupation with the exception of trade workers, machinery operators and drivers and labourers.

“This new visa will give workers more opportunity to move employers and will provide clear pathways to permanent residence for those who want to pursue them,” the review says.

Johnson says it will “bring the benefit of a more streamlined approach including to the current ineffective labour market testing requirement”.

“Also, the new seven-day turn-around for top tier workers above a new salary threshold of $135,000 is particularly welcome – as it will give better access to highly skilled migrants, including much needed hotel and accommodation managers,” he said.

“The recognition of the importance of the Working Holiday Maker visa, particularly to regional Australia, is also evident in the strategy and we look forward to working closely with Government on its on-going reviews,” Johnson added.

Johnson outlined potential areas of concern including the emphasis on the mobility of employer-sponsored temporary visas, saying that government fees are often only a minor part of the total cost that an employer has outlaid to sponsor a migrant.  

Under the new strategy, international students will face tougher English language testing and there will be more scrutiny over those applying for a second visa.

“Changes to the international student visa will also be closely watched by the hotel industry as students are an important part of our hotel workforce,” Johnson said.

Australian Hotels Association CEO Stephen Ferguson said access to an effective migration program is critically important to the industry.

“Of course, we want to hire Australian workers first, but the fact is the size of our industry is such that there are huge gaps in skilled roles such as chefs we are unable to fill without overseas workers – especially in the bush,” Ferguson said.

“Ensuring we have a sufficient supply of skills in the regions is absolutely critical for the hotel sector, so we are pleased to see skilled visa processing for the regions has been given the highest priority by the Government today.

“That said, the current requirement for backpackers to spend 88 days in regional areas when applying for a second-year visa is absolutely critical for the hospitality and accommodation industries and we look forward to participating in the government’s review of this requirement.”

Ferguson said the new migration strategy is “a positive step forward” in building a better system that works for business and the community.

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