11 December 2012

Council seeks Australia visa deal for small businesses

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A local council in Western Australia has claimed it will apply to the federal government for permission to bring in foreign workers for smaller business on an Australian visa deal typically seen in multi-billion dollar projects.

Australia visa

Pilbara Regional Council say small businesses in Western Australia are just as in need of foreign workers as multi-billion dollar mining projects.

Pilbara Regional Council has said it will apply to Immigration Minister Chris Bowen for a Regional Migration Agreement (RMA) which would allow foreign workers to obtain visas similar to the 457 visa stream - which allows holders to live and work in specified regions of Australia for set amounts of time.

Government deals to bring in foreign workers have thus far remained targeted towards large-scale businesses; Gina Rinehart - the world's richest woman - was granted the first Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA) earlier this year to bring in over 1,700 foreign workers for a project in the Pilbara region.

Despite protracted negotiations regarding Ms Rinehart's deal, Mr Bowen has confirmed that similar deals for other mining and construction projects were in the pipeline.

However, Tony Friday, chief executive of the Pilbara Regional Council, says smaller businesses also have 'enormous difficulty' in finding the required staff in a variety of industries other than mining and construction such as retail, hospitality and social services.

Any deal to bring in foreign workers has proved controversial with Australian workers' unions in the past, who claim Australian workers should be given priority for any available work yet Mr Friday says any workers brought in would 'not [be] in place of local staff'.

"There's still an enormous amount of paperwork and compliance requirements [to bring in a foreign worker] - it's considerably easier to employ local staff," said Mr Friday.

"If you can't get them, then we look at internal migration from the eastern states and other areas within our own state, and really, sponsoring an employee from overseas is a last resort."

Mr Friday argued that the last resort was 'available only to the very large end of town at the moment, not the small to medium-sized employers'.

Mr Friday said the Pilbara Regional Council had written to Mr Bowen with their intention to apply for an RMA.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian Embassy.

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