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Skill-First Migration Shake-Up: A Change in the Hospitality Sector

Updated: 5 days ago

The hospitality sector is facing a potential shake-up as the federal government proposes a "skill-first" overhaul of the migration system. This new approach prioritises migrants with in-demand skills to fill local shortages, potentially leaving restaurants and cafes struggling to find qualified chefs, cooks, and bakers.

chef pouring something from a pan

The Current Landscape: A Reliance on Migrant Workers

The Australian hospitality industry has traditionally relied heavily on migrant workers. Occupations like chefs, cooks, and managers, which are crucial for daily operations, currently account for thousands of visas granted each year. However, the proposed skill-first list, drafted by Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA), surprisingly excludes these vital professions.

Industry Concerns and Inconsistencies

The Australian Hotels Association, representing the industry, has expressed strong concerns. Stephen Ferguson, the association's head, highlights the critical shortage of skilled staff and emphasises the importance of migration for many hospitality businesses. 

Government's Motivation for Reform

The government aims to address two main issues with the current system:

  • Size of the temporary migration program: The unexpectedly high return of temporary migrants post-pandemic has sparked debate. While these workers have filled crucial labour gaps, there's a push to reduce the program's size.

  • "Permanent temporariness": The government aims to move away from a system that creates a situation where temporary migrant workers face uncertain long-term prospects.

The Proposed Three-Tiered System

The proposed solution involves a streamlined, three-tiered system:

  • Top Tier (>$130,000): Open to migrants regardless of occupation, provided their prospective employers offer a salary exceeding $130,000.

  • Bottom Tier (<$70,000): Entry is restricted and only granted in specific circumstances, such as aged care.

  • Middle Tier ($70,000-$130,000): Entry depends on a new skills list prioritising occupations with high demand or shortages.

The draft list for the middle tier is currently under public consultation, with the exclusion of chefs and cooks raising significant concerns for the hospitality sector.

The Potential Impact

If implemented, this skill-first approach could force restaurants to focus on attracting and retaining local talent. This might involve increased training programs, competitive wages, and improved working conditions to make the industry more appealing. Additionally, the hospitality sector might have to explore alternative solutions, such as:

  • Increased automation: Utilising technology for tasks like food preparation or order taking.

  • Shifting business models: Focusing on takeaway or delivery options requiring fewer front-of-house staff.

The Road Ahead

The proposed skill-first migration system is still under development. Public consultation on the draft list allows for industry input and potential adjustments before final implementation. The hospitality sector, along with other affected industries, will be closely watching how the new system unfolds and adapting their strategies to navigate the changing landscape.

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