The Australian economy has been substantially affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19). In order to contain the spread of the virus, the Australian Government has closed its borders to all but citizens and permanent residents. This is likely to have a significant impact on a number of industries, especially those in regional areas, which have traditionally relied on temporary migration to provide much needed labour. While Australia may be managing the pandemic well within our borders, it will be a long time until we are able to open our borders to other migrants. However, refugees who are already in Australia can help address these shortfalls.
Over 17,000 people on a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) or a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) are able to fill labour shortages across Australia. The SHEV was introduced in 2014 to encourage people who are found to be refugees to move to regional Australia. If they do so, they will be able to apply for another temporary visa, with the hope (but distant reality) of eventually moving onto a permanent visa. However, the current visa system and support services have not produced these intended outcomes, with most people not residing in a regional location, nor able to utilise the pathway options.
In order to encourage refugees on a SHEV or TPV to help fill these labour shortages, there needs to be proper incentives and supports in place. People need security that they will be able to remain in Australia and continue contributing to their local communities. They need to be able to settle with their families by their side, and they need local communities who are willing and able to support them. Together, the policy changes recommended in this submission will allow refugees on SHEVs and TPVs to help address the impending labour crisis in Australia’s critical sectors and industries, such as the agriculture, meat, food processing, child care, aged care and disability care sectors. Importantly, SHEV holders can only help to fill these labour shortages with proper support and implementation of realistic pathways.
RCOA recommends that permanent visas are available to all refugees on a SHEV or TPV who meet the SHEV pathway. This can be achieved by modifying the criteria of existing permanent skilled visas.
RCOA recommends that the SHEV pathway be modified to reduce the amount of time that refugees need to work or study down to one year (12 months cumulative), to recognise the impact of COVID-19 on the Australian economy in the coming months and years.
RCOA recommends modifying the SHEV pathway to allow refugees to meet the pathway requirement by working in a designated and/or critical sector or industry impacted by COVID-19, regardless of the location of employment. Critical sectors and industries affected by and likely to experience labour shortfalls due to COVID-19 and international border closures, should be deemed ‘designated SHEV industries’ for the revised SHEV pathway. This will enable refugees not only to meet the SHEV pathway by working in regional areas, but also by working in designated industries which have chronic labour shortages or are critical sectors. SHEV industries should be designated in consultation with industry bodies.
RCOA recommends that the Government ensure that family members overseas can be included in subsequent visa applications of SHEV or TPV holders who meet the current SHEV pathway.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government extend eligibility for settlement services to people currently on TPVs and SHEVs in order to support them to move to regional areas and/or obtain work in industries most impacted by COVID-19.
RCOA recommends that the Committee note the economic analysis that details the benefits that extending permanency to refugees on temporary visas would have on the Australian economy in the short- and long-term.