Arrivals cap a major "backwards" step for skills

Authored By Shortlist (Business)

This article was originally published by and has been republished with permission. 

The national cabinet decision to reduce international arrivals by 50% for the next six months has been slammed by industry groups, with the move "turning off the tap" of much-needed skills.

As part of a national four-phase COVID exit plan, the cabinet agreed to temporarily reduce commercial inbound passenger arrivals by 50% from 14 July until at least the start of 2022, to reduce the pressure on quarantine facilities. It also agreed that lockdowns are used only as a last resort.

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox described the imposition of "an unwelcome six-month" cap as a disappointing "trade-off for this agreement".

"That restriction must be very temporary and cannot be allowed to stay in place a moment longer than the Government deems necessary. The numbers arriving now amount to a trickle and today's cut is virtually turning off the tap of critically needed skilled workers. It is not the number of arrivals causing the outbreaks it is the management around quarantine arrangement."

ACCI's acting CEO Jenny Lambert says the reduction in the arrivals caps is "a big minus", and calls for continuing discussions to reduce the proposed duration they are in place.

"There are Australians desperate to return as well as widespread labour and skills shortages and the tourism and education sectors are having to wait even longer before other people can arrive in the country."

APSCo Australia managing director Lesley Horsburgh says members have warned of the "dire consequences" of the slowed immigration, and the "stark reality that sees Australia unable to meet its migration forecasts for over a decade".

And the latest announcement will only see recovery further stalled, directly impacting recruitment and staffing businesses, she says. "It's no secret that many recruitment firms have growth plans that are currently hampered by their inability to find recruitment professionals – in turn, clients are struggling to hire for the skills they need."

There is also the "real risk" that skilled workers will no longer consider Australia as an attractive migration option, and instead look to other countries "that have equipped themselves with more robust vaccine plans and better consideration of migration pathways", Horsburgh says.

"While immigration is a logical mechanism to address the talent shortage, every impacted sector, including recruitment needs to start addressing other means of developing talent, while the option of the international door is closed," she adds.

But RCSA CEO Charles Cameron says that these clearly "challenging times" require "adaptive thinking to pursue the right balance of risk and COVID-reality".

"[While] capping international return numbers is clearly difficult, for those it directly impacts, if we are going to continue to lock down entire states for a handful of cases, we have to accept that the source of the risk has to be mitigated and this is one way of doing just that," he says.

"However, most importantly, when we see how Europe and the US are moving to a new phase of COVID-reality with widespread vaccinations, we at RCSA greatly welcome the Government's commitment to focusing on suppression where, as they have articulated, 'lockdowns would only occur in extreme circumstances to prevent escalating hospitalisation and fatality'."