This post was written by Suzanne, who works in the department’s Skilled Migration Outreach program.
The Outreach program is a partnership between the department and various industry groups and unions. Departmental officers help their host organisation and members by providing information about skilled migration programs. In addition, there are regional outreach officers who help ensure information on regional migration is available for employers and government.
What host organisation are you with?
As an industry outreach officer, I am outposted to two organisations: the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) and Restaurant and Catering Australia (R&CA). Both of these organisations are national associations that represent their members’ interests.
As their skilled migration advisor, I work closely with both organisations to provide information about how employers in their industry can use immigration options to address skill shortages.
What do you do on a day-to-day basis as an outreach officer?
Outreach officers spend many of their days meeting with senior representatives from industry organisations, providing information about skilled migration to employers and presenting information on skilled visa options to lecture halls full of students. We also write articles for a variety of trade media outlets and work closely with departmental colleagues to help improve processes and/or resolve problems.
For instance, one day last month I started the morning at a 7am breakfast meeting in the boardroom of a large corporate organisation in Sydney’s CBD. After a healthy dose of coffee, I delivered a presentation that gave the big picture of Australia’s skilled migration program. In the afternoon, I met with the operations manager of a large corporate farming outfit to provide information on visas that the company could consider to alleviate current labour shortages. I recently spent a number of days assisting farmers at Agquip—Australia’s largest agricultural show held annually in Gunnedah, NSW.
What are the most common enquiries you deal with? Are they easy to resolve?
Outreach officers need to know a lot about the skilled migration program because we advise a large range of employers with different business backgrounds and needs. Some of the most common enquiries that we deal with relate to what visa is the best option for a particular situation, how to sponsor skilled workers under the 457 and permanent employer sponsored visa programs and what obligations employers need to abide by when they employ people from overseas.
As the outreach officer to Restaurant and Catering Australia, I receive a lot of enquiries from employers who want to sponsor chefs because skills honed overseas are often closely linked to the ‘authenticity’ of a particular cuisine. Employers often seek to sponsor a chef with international experience to ‘upskill’ their Australian employees through skill-sharing.
As with most aspects of immigration, some enquiries are easier to resolve than others. For instance, a colleague of mine searched to find a visa solution for a number of academics who specialise in lobster development and needed to come to Australia to help an Australian employer on an important research project. There wasn’t a visa with an exact or obvious fit and so my colleague had to do some consulting and creative thinking to find an appropriate solution—which she did.
What are the best information sources for employer sponsored migration programs?
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s website is a fantastic source of information for our visa programs. We always say to people that they first point of reference should be our visa comparison charts. The charts help people find the best options for them. They can then research each visa in detail at the website.
We always recommend that anyone considering using a visa program read as much as they can so they are aware of how the system works. As with buying a house or car, proper research will always make for a smoother ride.
Sometimes employers must get answers they don't particularly like. Is this difficult to deal with?
The majority of employers are time-poor and would prefer a straight answer even when this answer does not provide the outcome they would like to hear. Most employers understand and support whatever response we give them as long as we show them that we understand their situation and take the time to explain the reason for the information we give. We always identify alternatives where we can.
What do you see as one of the best things about the outreach program?
Outreach officers can often identify early on when an employer is not going to be successful in an application. By providing information, we can prevent employers from spending time and money pursuing an avenue that isn’t going to work for them. This really does help build public recognition and trust in the government’s skilled migration program.
Additionally, because we work so closely with our industries, outreach officers develop specialised knowledge and understanding of the business environment of employers in our industries. We can pick up on the unique challenges that specific sectors face with labour supply and help identify appropriate solutions. Our holistic focus means that we help our industry organisations understand that visas are only part of providing long-term solutions for labour needs.
By feeding our industry insight and expertise back to our policy and processing colleagues we help the department maintain flexibility and responsiveness to the wide-ranging and developing needs of employers in Australia.
More information on the department’s outreach program can be found here.