In this guest post, Melanie Macfarlane CEO of MM Migration and Recruitment shares her views on how to tackle the aged care staffing crisis and the many levers the government can pull to fast-track the inflow of care workers, doctors and nurses.
News the government will prioritise the approval of 60,000 skilled migration visas to tackle Australia’s ongoing skills shortage and record low unemployment rate is welcome, but can a promise overcome the huge backlog of visa requests, and can the Department of Home Affairs do the job when more than $1 billion in resources have been cut over the last 2 years? And there are obstacles to overcome, which will significantly reduce the number of qualified staff able to enter Australia.
Let’s look at the health occupations on the list for permanent residence via points tested skilled migration and how these are processed. The occupations consist of doctors and nurses and other specialised health areas for which a skills assessment is required. Identifying the equivalence of the Australian standard of education and work experience is notoriously difficult to achieve. In addition, a high level of English is essential, as well as age and years of work experience criteria.
For example, nurses from the Philippines or Colombia often must complete a bridging course to bring their qualifications up to the Australian standard before they can have their registration approved. There is a time-consuming and complex process involving various entities and registration bodies. Overseas doctors must pass an examination that is offered just once a year, and it has a high failure rate necessitating re-examination.
What then could be the solution? Temporary visas may not be a long-term proposition, however, when needs must, they need to be prioritised. The TSS 482 visa was created for the purpose of bringing in skilled temporary workers quickly, to fill an immediate skills shortage. Currently, these visas are taking 6 months or more to be approved. Forget that this process took just 48 hours a few years ago we’d be happy with 4 weeks at present!
Nurses and doctors may still not so easily enter the country with a temporary visa. In late 2019 the ‘traffic light’ bulletin was released with 3 proposed carer occupations to be added to the occupation list for the TSS 482 visa. The list was due for revision by March 2020 – just when COVID hit. The occupations were never added and have not been added since. Hence the only way to bring in individual support workers is via a labour agreement which may request occupations not on the ordinary lists but means waiting in the queue again. Moreover, there is no guarantee of permanent residence after the 4 years granted on this visa. This needs to change.
If the government really wants to help, they must revise the occupation lists. The aged care sector could work with experienced recruiters to utilise temporary employer-sponsored visas initially to bring the right workers into the country.
Finally, international students, many of whom currently work in the sector in Australia whilst studying, are a great source of assistance and this could be further improved. There are many education providers offering courses in the field of individual support and aged care to international students. Even here there are delays with some student visas are taking up to 18 months to grant. This needs to be urgently addressed. Then, those students need to be rewarded by the promotion of a pathway to permanent residence. Those nurses who need to study bridging courses could be amongst this cohort coming in to study in aged care, allowing them to immediately work full-time in the sector whilst obtaining recognition of their skills.
There are plenty of solutions, it just takes an innovative, consultative approach now at this time of great need for the aged care sector and the Australian economy.