Australia might be reputed worldwide for its strict immigration laws – anyone who’s ever seen Nothing to Declare will promptly nod their head in swift concurrence – but recently it was announced that immigrants to shores of Oz will be given a little more slack, which in the long run could seriously benefit the local economy.

The new legislation comes into force as an answer to major labour shortages across the country. These shortages are especially concentrated in the Northern Territory as a result of its current Ichthys project, which currently employs 12,000 people worldwide.

The Ichthys Project is a major oil and gas enterprise worth US$34 billion, with a new LNG processing plant under construction in Melbourne. The project’s size is hugely promising for the local and national economy, but there is a shortage of supply when it comes to a home-grown workforce, as the project requires an additional 10,000 employees.

In order to cater for the high demand for skilled and semi-skilled personnel, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has recently finished writing up guidelines to what it calls Designated Area Migrations Agreements (DAMAs) after extensive negotiations with territory governments and stakeholders.

The New Legislation

DAMAs essentially allow concessions for employers to recruit overseas workers to cover vacant positions where no Australian workers are available.

Senator Michaelia Cash, Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, claimed that by supplementing local workforces with skilled overseas workers, DAMAs can help stimulate the local economy by ensuring vacancies are occupied, essentially “oiling the gears” of local businesses.

After all, recruitment is not simply a necessity exclusive to the Ichthys Project. With so many workers heading to the LNG plant, semi-skilled and unskilled positions have been vacated. This includes positions in childcare, disability carers, mechanics, bricklayers, office managers, carpenters, chefs and nurses, according to NT chamber of commerce chief executive Greg Bicknell.

The concession in skill levels offered by DAMAs, says Bicknell, will allow these essential semi-skilled positions to be catered for.

Better for Everyone

Worries that Australian workers will be dismissed in favour of overseas workers has sparked heated debates Down Under, but thankfully Australian workers have nothing to fear.

Senator Cash’s spokesperson noted that DAMAs are designed to “supplement rather than substitute Australian workers.” A few restrictions remain in place to ensure that local workers aren’t unfairly overlooked.

For example, DAMAs do not permit for the entry of unqualified overseas workers into Australia, meaning employers will be required to pay overseas workers a similar wage to local workers. Also, employers requesting DAMAs must have documented evidence that they have sought to recruit Australian workers within the six months prior to the application.

Boosting the labour force in Australia is a fantastic way of seeing the economy get back on its feet, and it’s good to see that the government is recognising the restrictive nature of standard 457 temporary work visas. As Australia opens its doors to new people and workforces, it also opens up to new economic opportunity.

You can find more information on working in Australia here.