The Federal Government has confirmed plans to prioritise 60,000 permanent visa applications lodged by skilled foreign workers in hopes of easing workforce shortages in aged care, education and the broader health sector.
With a current backlog of close to a million visa applications across several categories due to COVID-19 border closures, the Department of Home Affairs will now look to bolster its own workforce to tackle processing delays.
Speaking on ABC Radio yesterday, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil provided listeners with an insight into the visa gridlock.
“The change is prioritising people who are offshore who are wanting to come here to work and working through those applications as quickly as we can.
“It’s a drop in the ocean when we are talking about a backlog that is close to a million.”
In addition to prioritising skilled worker visa applications that will benefit the sector, the Government has also signalled its intention to prioritise aged care in Canberra next Tuesday when Parliamentary sittings return.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has vowed that the first pieces of legislation to be introduced to parliament will be amendments to the Aged Care Act to boost the nursing workforce and tackle high administration fees, along with a jobs and skills bill.
This will be the first meeting of Parliament since the May Election and those within the sector hope that the renewed focus on aged care will bring some much-needed relief related to the slew of issues currently plaguing the aged care system.
Outrage regarding aged care workforce shortages has hit a fever pitch in recent weeks as providers with depleted rosters brace themselves for what is expected to be the most significant wave of COVID-19 since January.
The urgency of this issue prompted an emergency meeting between Aged Care Minister Anika Wells and both the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and the Aged Care Advisory Group yesterday.
During this meeting, Minister Wells flagged the potential for more Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel to be deployed into aged care homes again to ease pressure on a system that she says has been neglected for years.
“I am trying to be on the ground talking to and listening to as many people in aged care as possible.”
The latest statistics reveal that 900 aged care homes are being impacted by COVID-19 in Australia.
Earlier this week, Aged and Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Paul Sadler, told HelloCare that there is currently only 15 ADF personnel assisting aged care services across the country.
This scaling back of ADF support has left many in the industry baffled as the prospect of more COVID-19 outbreaks looms over the coming weeks.
“Let’s call a spade a spade here,” said Minister Wells.
“There are not enough workers in aged care, shifts are going short every single day. It is a sector in crisis, it is a sector that has been neglected for nine years.”