Qantas Secures Labour Agreement Deal to Import Foreign Pilots

The major Australian airline, Qantas, has struck a deal with the Coalition government to recruit 76 new foreign pilots to aid in alleviating its’ ongoing skills shortage crisis.

The migration agreement was finalized late last month, and allows the airline to bring in 76 pilots and instructors into the country for up to four years.

As part of agreement, foreign pilots will be able to avoid the two-year restrictions that block current applicants from applying for permanent residency.

Qantas is the most high-profile company to negotiate such an agreement with the Australian government this year, with its regional branch, QantasLink, set to receive the bulk of the new workers.

According to the airline—which is currently going through one of its’ biggest training programs since the company’s inception—it has begun struggling to recruit instructors, following the government’s decision last year to introduce a two-year restriction on foreign pilots.

The new labour agreement will now allow the airline to bring in foreign workers to take on roles as pilot instructors, as well as pilots for low-level propeller-based aircraft.

Although the pilot’s visa stay will be limited to four year in Australia, the government has confirmed that the workers will be cleared for a pathway to permanent residency following that period. The Department of Immigration has also confirmed that Qantas agreement stipulates that the annual intake of workers is to be renegotiated following the first year

A spokesperson for Qantas, has touted the change as an important step forward for Australia’s rural aviation industry, which continues to suffer from a significant skills shortage.

“Our focus has always been to recruit Australian-based pilots and that hasn’t changed,” the spokesperson said.

“This agreement allows us to temporarily bring in a limited number of simulator instructors and experienced pilots from overseas to support one of the biggest training programs we have done in our history.”

Although similar labour agreements have existed in Australia since 1989, they have only begun to attract intense interest from the business community over the last year.

The once obscure practice is now experiencing a surge of renewed popularity, thanks to the Turnbull government’s decision to abolish the 457 visa program in 2017. The increased restrictions on pathways to permanent residency, mass scrapping of eligible occupations and the introduction of new sponsorship prerequisites have all also been cited as motivating factors.

Numerous other companies have already been granted similar labour agreements by the Department of Immigration this year, including Inpex Australia—which currently run the Ichthys LNG project—the Sydney-based fine-dining restaurant Aqua Dining, and beef exporter Teys Australia.

The shift towards a labour-agreement focused skilled migration system also appears to have the backing of officials from the Department of Home Affairs. The secretary for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Mike Pezzullo, told a Senate estimates committee in May that labour agreements are a “better targeted measure” when compared to other methods of addressing skilled worker staffing deficits.

“There is no reason for anyone to be devastated about anything.”

“They can engage with us on a labour agreement, they can engage with us on any number of alternative pathways,” Pezzullo said.

However, other officials have cautioned companies to remember that the Department still considers arrangements of this nature to a “regulation breaker”, and warned that they are still not its “favoured option”.

A senior migration agent for Absolute Immigration, Grant Frankcombe, observed that labour agreements are becoming an increasingly popular option for employers following the demise of the former 457 visa program.

“Labour agreements can be a great way for businesses to sponsor skilled overseas workers when there is a need for skills that cannot be found in the Australian labour market,” Frankcombe said.

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