Australia is largely an urbanised country, with a good balance of vibrant rural communities. Regional Australia accounts for just over one-third of Australia’s population and makes a large contribution to the national economy.
Migrants play a vital role in boosting population growth and supporting regional economies by filling gaps in the Australian workforce. This has always been the case in a pre-COVID-19 environment with the current times underscoring the importance of migration to regional communities even more.
Without an adequate supply of foreign labour, the economic and social functions of regional businesses have been restricted, and the capacity for expansion is reduced. Industries and communities within rural Australia have been particularly hard hit by labour shortages in the face of COVID-19, with many small and medium businesses struggling to secure skilled and unskilled labour.
Regional Australia’s future prosperity is critical to the future of the national economy. For many small towns, the contribution of international migrants is usually their only source of population growth. With current travel restrictions, regional Australia is not getting its share of international migration, and therefore its economy is not fully benefitting from the value that migration can bring.
It has long been recognised at the policy level that migration contributes to the creation of jobs, with many case studies quantifying the impact of migrants on entrepreneurship and job creation in specific towns as well as across Australia. During the times of the coronavirus, regional businesses are facing challenges to employ migrants to meet labour shortages, endangering the ability of them to maintain their operations.
Regional migration agreements set in place like the DAMA (Designated Area Migration Agreement) which is a formal agreement between the Australian Government and a DAR (Designated Area Representative) recognises the critical need to fill labour shortages in designated regional areas. They are used to provide tailored solutions to regions where there are skills gaps and shortages that cannot be met by Australian workers. DAMAs provide concessions to the standard requirement of employer-sponsored skilled migration, including on issues such as the occupation and skills lists, the age requirements, salary requirements, English language thresholds and pathways to permanent residency.
With an increasing number of regional employers set to sponsor skilled overseas workers to address skills and labour shortages, skilled workers from overseas are encouraged to apply and seek regional visas to Australia using this current opportunity.