Politics Analysis

The ‘tradie’ fast track visa stream beat-up

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Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has joined those complaining about the exclusion of tradies from fast track visa processing (Image by Dan Jensen)

Lobby groups, along with Peter Dutton, are up in arms about overseas tradies being discluded from fast-track visa processing rather than working to solve the problem. Dr Abul Rizvi reports.

THE AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW and other media outlets say business lobby groups are complaining that tradies are not included in the seven-day fast-track processing stream of employer-sponsored migration announced recently by the Government. Without remembering the mess he created with employer-sponsored migration in 2017-18, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has jumped on board this complaint.

So let’s look at the facts rather than the rhetoric.

In the September quarter of 2023, there were zero construction tradie occupations in the top 15 occupations that Australian employers nominated for employer sponsorship. Not carpenters, joiners, plumbers, bricklayers, or any other traditional construction trade. That has been the case for most of the last 20 years.

In other words, despite the current and prospective shortage of tradies to help build the massive increase in houses and apartments needed, Australian employers are sponsoring very few tradies from overseas. Most businesses that employ tradies are small sub-contractors who will rarely offer anyone from overseas a long-term job and are unlikely to sponsor a tradie from overseas. It’s the uncertain nature of the sub-contracting world.  

While tradies who run their own businesses in Australia earn big money, employers who sponsor an overseas tradie pay a median salary of around $110,000. So even if tradies were included in the list of occupations for the fast-track stream, they still wouldn’t qualify for fast-tracking because most Australian employer sponsors don’t pay them a salary above the threshold of $135,000 indexed.

And I don’t hear either the various business lobby groups or Dutton proposing that overseas-sponsored tradies get paid more. Let’s not forget that Dutton insisted on freezing the minimum salary for employer-sponsored migration. He preferred they be paid less rather than more.

The problem here is not that tradies will be processed particularly slowly, certainly not when compared to how slowly all employer-sponsored migrants were processed when Dutton forced a slow-down in processing.

Most tradies will be processed in the middle-income visa stream along with nurses, teachers and so on.

If a reputable Australian employer sponsors an overseas tradie and lodges a fully complete application (including skills assessment, English language test (if needed), evidence of skilled work experience, police certificates and health check), that application will be processed very quickly. Certainly, many times more quickly than the same application would have been processed when Peter Dutton was Minister after his 2017-18 changes when processing times and backlogs blew out enormously.

The problem is not that tradies are not included in the fast-track processing stream (although they certainly could be included if Australian employer sponsors started paying them more and were prepared to give them long-term jobs).

The problem is that Australia attracts very few qualified tradies from overseas across all visa categories. Moreover, TAFEs in Australia run very few tradie courses for overseas students (this is partly due to some silly migration regulations that the Government should look at) and Australian employers are generally reluctant to employ them as pseudo apprentices without the relevant government support and subsidies.

Perhaps the relevant lobby groups could work with governments to dig into this problem further rather than carry on about something that is completely irrelevant.

And perhaps Peter Dutton could stop pretending he cares about streamlined visa processing given his appalling record of lengthening visa processing times and massive backlogs, including for employer-sponsored migration.

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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