Clouds gather over jobs in the sun
Australia accepts fewer Britons as it cuts back the list of skills that are critical to its economy
By Chloe Rhodes
The Sunday Times (London), March 22, 2009
Stephen Downes and his wife, Kelly, have a dream. They want to escape recession-hit Britain for the sunnier climes of Victoria, Australia, and until last week, they thought they would be there by the summer. Now they fear they may never make it.
Downes is a plumber and his trade was one of about 100 on Australias critical-skills list the skills in such demand that visa applications from people possessing them are given top priority. But on Monday the Australian government announced a 14% cut in its skilled-migration programme and removed building and manufacturing trades from the critical-skills list.
'This is something weve always wanted to do,' said Downes. 'Our boys are seven and four and we want a more outdoors life for them. Having spent a year of our lives and almost 5,000 on the visa-application process, I was so disappointed to learn that the goal-posts have been moved. Our lives are on hold until we know whats going to happen.'
The cuts will be the first reduction in this category of migrants in more than a decade and will reduce Australia's intake of skilled workers from 133,500 to 115,000 by June. The critical-skills list will now comprise mainly health, medical, engineering and IT roles, leaving those in other fields to try to find state sponsorship which is now the Downes familys big hope or face the possibility of their visa application being rejected.
Andy Harwood at the Australian Visa Bureau said the move had its roots in the collapse of commodity prices. 'Australia thought it would escape the economic downturn because its mining industry was so strong,' he said. 'But since mining has been affected by falling commodity prices, the Australian economy has begun to suffer. Its unemployment rate is now 5.2% and is predicted to reach 7% by June next year.
That has brought pressure to stop bringing in migrants.'
And its not just skilled workers who face a shortage of opportunities down under. New research by KPMG suggests that other jobs in Australia are also being squeezed. An international survey found that job opportunities for British workers in Australia will drop by a third over the next three years, with the percentage of companies sourcing their workforce from the UK predicted to fall from 48% to 32% in three years.
'We talked to big companies for our survey, so this is going to affect mostly white-collar workers,' said Jill Storey, head of people services tax at KPMG.
'People who might have been looking to go to Australia may find that the opportunities are diminishing.'
She cites a shift towards employing immigrants from India and China as the cause of the reduction in opportunities for Britons. 'Australia is doing a lot of trade with China and India, and firms need people who have a cultural understanding of these countries.'
This double-ended squeeze will come as a blow to all those Britons who are considering a move to the southern hemisphere as we continue to feel the economic pinch. Britain has always been the main source of overseas workers in Australia and over the past decade the level of migration has more than doubled. A recent survey by the removals firm Pickfords found there was a 31% increase in the number of people emigrating from Britain to Australia in 2008 compared with 2007.
So what makes relocating to the other side of the world so appealing? Migration specialists say that lifestyle factors are still the biggest lure, and life certainly seems sweet for those who have moved.
Carpenter Peter Sheppard, his wife, Sally, and their two children moved from Wiltshire to Port Sorell in Tasmania almost two years ago, when carpenters were in high demand in Australia. 'There is no way we would have been able to live by the sea in Britain. Now were 10 minutes on a slow walk,' said Sally. 'We own a two-acre plot of land; the kids can have a dog and all the freedom and space they like. Both the children have just bloomed. Where Peter worked in the UK there is not much work at the moment so we got out at just the right time. We walk down the beach some mornings and have to pinch ourselves to remind us that we really do live here.'
There are financial advantages, too. The price of milk and bread may be lower in Britain, but the cost of most other household items, including meat and petrol, is lower in Australia. House prices are also lower a detached, three-bed-room house with a pool in Bris-bane costs about 120,000.
For many jobs, salaries are higher, too. A recruitment consultant could expect to earn about 2,200 a year more. An operations manager might earn 5,500 more and bricklayers and hairdressers can expect to earn a couple of pounds more each hour.
With so much on offer, news of the cutback in migration is dispiriting. But the situation is far from hopeless. The figure for skilled migration is still one of the highest on record and Andrew Norton at the international recruitment specialist Michael Page said that there were high-level jobs to be had for the right candidates.
'We still have some clients who are willing to sponsor employees at a senior level and with particular skill-sets in finance, sales, marketing, retail, legal and engineering,' he said. 'We advise that those looking for a job need to be on the ground with visa in hand.'
His optimism is echoed by Grahame Igglesden, an expert in Australian migration at the visa specialist Concept Australia. 'People should not lose hope if they want to make the move,' he said. 'There are all sorts of avenues to explore for getting a visa. Getting state sponsorship is still a great option, and remember that the process takes time. If you apply now, you might be ready to go in about 18 months, by which time the global economy may be starting to recover.'