12 April 2024

Riverina businesses to get easier access to migrant workers via new agreement with Federal Government

| Oliver Jacques
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Rachel Whiting in blue T-shirt

Rachel Whiting has welcomed the expansion of DAMA after fighting to make it happen. Photo: RDA Riverina.

Wagga, Griffith, Albury and Yass will be among several regional towns to benefit from the expansion of a Federal Government agreement aimed at providing businesses with easier access to migrant workers.

In 2019, the Northern NSW region of Orana established the Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) with the Federal Government. On Friday (5 April), this agreement was expanded to cover more than 60 per cent of regional NSW, including the Riverina, Murray, Central West and Southern Inland.

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This is something that networking body Regional Development Australia (RDA) Riverina has advocated for years.

“What it means is if you want to sponsor eligible migrants as an employer, then there’s now concessions that there wouldn’t be in normal employer sponsored skilled migration,” RDA Riverina director Rachel Whiting said.

Businesses can generally only sponsor migrants that meet strict eligibility criteria. The DAMA relaxes these criteria for attributes such as English languages skills, age and minimum income requirements.

Occupations in high demand such as chefs, bricklayers, fruit pickers and primary school teachers are among 129 on the DAMA list that offers concessions.

The aim of this reform is to address the chronic labour and skills shortages across regional NSW, which have hit the Riverina particularly hard.

In late 2022, the ABC current affairs show Four Corners aired a program filmed in Griffith, featuring interviews with employers who expressed their urgent need for hundreds of more workers.

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Griffith Business Chamber president John Nikolic had also been pushing hard for the DAMA expansion.

“Griffith has been described by Four Corners as being ‘emblematic of the national crisis,’” he said.

“The expanded DAMA will assist local employers in overcoming that crisis, by providing much needed flexibility and more certainty in skilled migration pathways. For example, employers will be able to permanently recruit foreign farmhands, being an occupation that is now included on the expanded skilled occupation list.”

John Nikolic in front of a bookshelf

John Nikolic also pushed for the DAMA. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Ms Whiting also welcomed the decision but warned there were more reforms needed.

“The DAMA is really good, but it’s not a green light on everything,” she said.

“Employers need to meet certain conditions as do migrants. We’re hoping that it’ll help a lot of businesses, but the fact is sponsorship is expensive and it doesn’t take that away.

“It’s only on trial for 12 months, so I hope employers use it; if it’s not used it may not be extended.”

Griffith Business Chamber says it will be looking at hosting some seminars in the near future for employers to provide more information on the DAMA. Updates are provided on the group’s Facebook page.

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