The new free-trade agreement between Canberra and London could see an influx of British migrants fill some of the labour shortages caused by Australia’s closed borders.
It comes as Trade Minister Dan Tehan worked through the final details of the agreement in London, which is expected to be finalised this week, and which will make it easier for people to live and work in both countries.
The deal will likely come into force on July 1, 2022.
Speaking in London, where he was concluding a 17-day world trip, Tehan said he would seek extra visa changes over the coming months to lure a greater share of British citizens to the Australian workforce.
Australia continues to see the impacts of just over 18 months of closed borders on its workforce, as worker shortages squeeze the jobs market.
Bjorn Jarvis, head of Labour Statistics at the ABS, said the results of September’s jobs data showed closed borders were continuing to impact the labour market even as east coast cities began reopening.
While the percentage of businesses reporting at least one vacancy fell from 22% in May 2021 to 20% in August 2021, “this was still much higher than February 2020 (11%), before the start of the pandemic,” Jarvis said.
“Many businesses continued to report difficulties in filling their vacancies,” he said.
The ABS data showed vacancies in the private sector were 49% higher than at the start of the pandemic, compared with 27% in the public sector.
The figures showed there were 334,000 job vacancies in August 2021, around 106,000 more than at the start of the pandemic.
Tehan said current labour shortages plaguing parts of Europe had propelled the government to take actions to avoid similar problems in Australia as state and international border closures begin to lift.
The government intends for the visas to counter the risk a resurgent economy will not have enough workers for key industries.
“We understand as we open up, we’re going to have to be very conscious of the need to provide the skills that we need to drive the reopening and make sure that we rebound as strongly as possible,” Tehan said.
The new visa will increase the working holiday visa age limit from 30 to 35 and give Australians and Britons a total of three years to live and work in each other’s countries.
While the government won’t pursue completely free movement, Tehan is also thought to be exploring new visas to attract more farm workers.
Tehan told London business figures Australia would be “willing to do more” than what the new trade agreement will offer on mobility.
The trade minister also reiterated it should be as easy for Brits to come to Australia as it is for them to go to Europe, dismissing the suggestion Australia’s hardline approach to the pandemic would deter potential migrants.
“I don’t think so … there is strong demand for people to be able to return to Australia,” Tehan said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed an in-principle agreement for the free-trade deal in June, with the final text likely to be completed within a fortnight.
The leaders could potentially sign the deal on the sidelines of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November, but the British Prime Minister may not want the signing overshadowed by the climate talks.
The 2021 Intergenerational Report forecasts net overseas migration will rise from the government’s cap of 160,000 places a year to 235,000 people per year by 2024-25.