The federal government could ease travel restrictions for skilled migrants as soon as next month, which would see long-term visa holders return to Australia for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
It comes one week after NSW, Victoria and the ACT all reopened their international borders to fully vaccinated Australian citizens and residents, and opened travel exemptions for immediate family, including parents.
Speaking with Sky News on Monday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confirmed that the government is now focused on prioritising the return of skilled migrants and international students to Australia.
“Our next step the Prime Minister and our team are working through is to ensure that skilled workers can [come back].”
The Treasurer alluded to the government’s recent announcement to introduce a quarantine-free travel bubble with Singapore from 21 November, stating that visa holders, international students and tourists alike will be among the first welcomed to Australia.
“They’ll be able to come from Singapore, as you know, very soon as a result of those new travel arrangements that we’ve put in place,” Frydenberg said.
“To bring that broader cohort of skilled workers as well as international students from overseas will be a very positive thing. As you know, we’ve already seen agricultural workers come from the Pacific to Australia to help work on our farms, and we’re looking at the first available opportunity.”
Asked whether the government has a specific date in mind for such a return, the Treasurer said, “before the end of the year”.
NSW is set to begin a pilot program that will see 500 international students brought into the state from 6 December, while Queensland is set to welcome students from overseas in the new year.
Meanwhile, the absence of skilled migrants and overseas students is taking its toll on employment figures.
According to recent stats, job ads are up 30 per cent than prior to the pandemic, while unemployment sits at 4.6 per cent.
“We’re pretty optimistic and confident about the economy’s outlook. And so is the Reserve Bank. Just last week, they updated their economic outlook and their growth forecasts from four-and-a-quarter per cent to five-and-a-half per cent for next year. And they’re expecting to see unemployment in the fours for a sustained period, the first time since the 1970s,” Treasurer Frydenberg said.
However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics did warn that the low national unemployment rate continues to reflect reduced participation during the recent lockdowns rather than strong labour market condition.
“Over the past three months, participation in the labour force has fallen by over 330,000 people, with employment falling by 281,000 people and unemployment falling by 53,000 people.
“Beyond people losing their jobs, or working reduced or no hours, we continue to see how challenging it is for people without work to remain active within the labour market during lockdowns,” Bjorn Jarvis, head of labour statistics at the ABS, said last month.
Additional reporting by Maja Garaca Djurdjevic.