There is so much uncertainty around the post-pandemic environment, but there is one thing we know for certain – the workplace and the workforce will be fundamentally different from the pre-pandemic world we once knew.
Employers across industries will need to prepare for navigating a very different world to ensure success in a globally competitive talent environment. And for the first time in nearly two years, employers across industries are beginning to imagine what business will be like when Australia’s international borders re-open.
Many industries in Australia are under pressure as demand for skilled labour increases. Fortunately, Australia is now on track to begin welcoming inbound international travellers, but hiring global talent has changed since the start of the pandemic.
In this article we wanted to outline some practical steps that businesses in Australia — whether tech startups, consulting firms, pharmaceutical companies, law firms like Gilton Valeo or employers in any other industry — should consider now as Australia’s borders reopen and skilled talent has its pick of where to work.
Roadmap to reopening Australia
The Australian Government has previously announced a four-phase plan to reopen the country, which has the agreement of the National Cabinet. It’s worth looking at each of the phases previously announced as it may, in a worst case scenario, be an indicator of future government measures if we see a further serious spike in COVID-19. For example, in case the current Omicron strain proves more serious than expected.
Phase One - Vaccinate, prepare, pilot [August 2021 – September 2021]
The first phase of the government's four-stage plan to return to normal involved a suppression strategy of the virus using lockdowns as the primary tool.
Phase one included the following:
- Accelerating vaccine rates, including implementing a national vaccination plan
- Closing international borders to keep COVID-19 out
- Early, stringent and short lockdowns if outbreaks occur
- Preparing a vaccine booster program
- Undertaking a further review of the national hotel quarantine network
Before moving to phase two, Australia needed to achieve a 70 per cent vaccination of the eligible population. At the time, COVID-19 outbreaks in NSW and Victoria saw these states significantly ramp up their vaccination levels, with both states reaching their 70 per cent vaccination of eligible residents earlier than planned.
Phase Two - Vaccine transition phase [October 2021 – November 2021]
The Australian government expected state lockdowns to become less likely. International arrivals were still restricted in phase two and caps on arrivals remained.
As an immigration law firm looking to hire more legal professionals, during phase two we recognized that there was greater scope for Australian qualified lawyers residing or working overseas to return to Australia because of increased traveller caps. In other words, phase two more workarounds to bring in Australian qualified lawyers into the country from overseas, despite closed borders.
Phase two also allowed capped entry of student and economic visa holders subject to quarantine arrangements for vaccinated residents. This all meant more talent was able to come to Australia.
Phase Three - Vaccination consolidation phase [November 2021 – December 2021]
Phase three easing came into force once Australia hit 80 per cent of the eligible population being fully vaccinated.
The third phase saw Australia take a greater step back to normal life by functioning under "baseline restrictions", which included:
- Highly targeted lockdowns only
- No caps on returning vaccinated Australians
- Lift all restrictions on outbound travel for vaccinated Australians
- Extend travel bubble for unrestricted travel to new candidate countries
- Gradual reopening of inward and outward international travel with safe countries and proportionate quarantine and reduced requirements for fully vaccinated inbound travelers
The easing of immigration sponsorship arrangements is limited to countries and nationals which meet Australian Government health requirements, such as similar vaccination rate coverage as Australia, and foreign nationals being fully vaccinated.
Again, as a law firm looking for talent, we realized that a critical factor for Australian law firms to consider at this stage was the likely additional costs imposed on sponsoring foreign lawyers, such as mandatory quarantine arrangements. At this stage, the exact quarantine requirements may have varied in different states and territories in Australia, and may have been impacted by the emergence of new COVID-19 strains.
Phase Four - Final post-vaccination phase [December 2021 – January 2022]
The fourth and final phase of the government's four-step plan sees things as "normal" as possible, with international borders finally set to open fully for both inbound and outbound travellers in December 2021.
In phase four, Australia is seeking to treat COVID-19 like any other infectious disease, with the goal to minimize cases without ongoing restrictions or lockdowns. Some restrictions will continue to remain in place, including: quarantine for high-risk inbound travellers and boosters as necessary.
So, how will Australia reopening its borders impact skilled immigration into the country?
How reopening Australia impacts skilled immigration
The population growth that Australia has come to expect over the past century has almost ground to a halt as the nation deals with the social, health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Government took decisive action to manage the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic by restricting the international border early in the pandemic. As a result, the domestic and global impacts of the pandemic are expected to lead to Australia’s slowest population growth in over a century.
Australia’s net overseas migration in fiscal year 2021 fell into negative levels for the first time since World War II with a loss of 72,000 people, and the forecast for the 2021-22 fiscal year is a further loss of 22,000 people. The economic impact of this steep and sudden reduction in net overseas migration has had a significant impact on Australian businesses which have long relied on skilled foreign talent to help drive growth.
The impact of cutting access to skilled foreign talent for the business community will mean that the Australian Government is expected to restart skilled migration as soon as possible after phase four of the plan to reopen the nation has been reached. And there is no indication from the government that there will be any significant changes to sponsored skilled temporary and permanent migration once international borders reopen.
The mandatory health requirements, such as chest x-ray and medical examination, are likely to remain unchanged from pre-pandemic requirements. There may be a temporary requirement for additional health screening related to COVID-19, such as the requirement to be fully vaccinated with an approved COVID-19 vaccine, and the requirement to produce a negative COVID-19 test prior to entry to Australia.
We anticipate that the government will make every effort to reduce any unnecessary additional costs with securing foreign talent, such as mandatory quarantine. However, the government is expected to enforce certain health requirements before skilled foreign talent can start working for their employer in Australia.
Indeed, we’re already seeing evidence of the government laying the framework for reduced mandatory quarantining. Home quarantining for a reduced time frame is being trialled, as well as the wider use of rapid antibody testing kits. These strategies will help reduce the time frame from visa approval to the sponsored employee being able to commence working with their employer. These strategies will also reduce additional visa processing costs associated with mandatory health screening requirements.
Preparing for the global talent revolution
At a time of unprecedented disruption in the global economy, we are witnessing in real-time the largest movement of talent in our working lifetimes. The business world is trying to interpret the longer-term impacts on the workforce and workplace wreaked by COVID-19.
When international borders reopen, it is anticipated that qualified Australian professionals, particularly recent graduates and those in their twenties and thirties, will look to build their career in the traditional talent hubs of the United Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong, and to a lesser extent the United States of America and Canada.
There are a few unique factors which are likely to make the exodus of skilled Australian workers higher than pre-pandemic levels.
Firstly, the extended closure of Australia’s international borders has meant that many former expat workers have returned to Australia during the worst of the COVID-19 crisis. This cohort is likely to want to resume their overseas careers once borders reopen, and this large and sudden spike of talent departures will pose a significant challenge for businesses in Australia.
Secondly, the once-in-a-generation disruption caused by COVID-19 is expected to generate an enormous demand in skilled labour, whether legal expertise in areas such as mergers and acquisitions, employment law, technology and risk, to tech and other skilled labour, in locations where the major multinational businesses are headquartered. This will create fierce competition for qualified talent in corporate hub locations such as New York, London, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Plus, extended periods of disruption to existing workplace arrangements, including working from home for many months, has enabled talent to assess their priorities for the future. If business leaders are slow to respond to the evolving needs of their workforce, talent will explore their options in a market which provides them with more employment options than was the case in the pre-pandemic world.
Skilled labour is now looking to negotiate workplace benefits that align with their changed priorities. Factors such as the explosion of interest in remote work and work-from-anywhere policies, the increased use of technology, and importantly an increased focus on workplace wellness has contributed to large scale migration of talent.
So what are employers to do to prepare for and get ahead of this?
Employers need to prepare for a workforce changed by the COVID-19 pandemic
The changed workforce and workplace will require employers to revise their talent attraction strategies to align with the evolving expectations of global talent. As Australia begins to reopen its borders, now is the time for organizations to lay the framework to attract your share of global talent.
Regardless of your industry — whether you’re a tech company, engineering firm or a immigration law firm like Gilton Valeo — you should be planning ahead and creating a plan to attract and retain foreign talent. In order to succeed, it is vital that you understand the rapidly changing laws and policies that govern skilled immigration in Australia....
Gilton Valeo can help.
Gilton Valeo Lawyers is a Sydney based incorporated legal practice specialising in corporate migration, founded in 1982.
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