Regional Express (Rex) fears recent changes to Australia’s skilled worker visa program will make it harder for the airline to recruit overseas pilots and lead to cuts in air services.
The federal government recently announced it was ending the 457 temporary skilled worker visa scheme.
In its place will be two new temporary skilled worker visas. The first is a two-year visa that included one option to extend for two more years. However, visa holders will not be able to apply for permanent residency.
There will also be a four-year temporary skilled worker visa that can be renewed and also included a pathway for permanent residency in Australia after three years.
The 457 visa, which will be scrapped in March 2018, was introduced by Prime Minister John Howard in 1996 and allows companies to employ overseas workers for job vacancies difficult to find Australian workers for. It also allowed 457 visa holders to have their family live with them in Australia on a 457 secondary visa.
Current 457 visa holders would be unaffected by the changes, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said on April 18.
The federal government has also cut scores of occupations that will be eligible for the new visas, compared with the 457 visa.
Rex said the aeroplane pilot and aircraft maintenance engineer (Avionics) categories were among those removed completely.
Meanwhile, those applying under the aircraft maintenance engineers (airframe and engine) categories would only be eligible for the short-term two-year visa and therefore not able to seek permanent residency.
Rex chief operating officer Neville Howell said the changes being brought in would make it harder to recruit pilots and engineers from overseas.
“Rex is the only major airline in Australia that established its own pilot academy simply to train new pilots for its airline. Despite seven years of effort and 20 completed intakes of cadet pilots, Rex is still obliged to recruit overseas as the rate of poaching, reflecting the shortage of pilots, by the larger carriers locally and abroad, is simply staggering,” Howell said in a statement on Friday.
“The removal of pilots and licensed engineers from the skills shortage list has been done without any aviation industry inputs besides the unions.
“It is simply incredible that highly critical and scarce resources that require an enormous amount of specialised and high cost training have been removed when we see occupations like hairdressers, real estate agents, gardeners, florists, picture framers and footballers being left on the list.”
Howell said the proposed changes would “undoubtedly tear apart the socio-economic fabric of many smaller regional cities and result in a terminal downward spiral of these cities”.
“If the government does not reverse its stand on this matter, Rex and other regional carriers will have no choice but to shut services to the more marginal regional centres in order to conserve their pilot resources for the bigger routes,” Howell said.
“We call upon the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection to place an immediate moratorium on the changes to the 457 visa program until a well-considered replacement list has been formulated reflecting the real needs of our economy.”