Australia is ready to party after almost two years of on-again/off-again lockdowns, but venues across the country are facing a difficult summer after an exodus of holiday workers and foreign students. There is a gaping hole in the market for casual workers, even as the economy re-opens.
Labour shortages are hitting hardest at public-facing businesses, those already most affected by months of rolling lockdowns in the two biggest cities – Sydney and Melbourne.
Government statistics show the number of non-resident workers in the country – often travellers with work visas – was down by two-thirds in the June quarter of 2021 from the start of 2020.
Peter Hurley, a researcher of education policy at Victoria University said that the fall in international students has been nearly as dramatic and said there are now some 300,000 fewer foreign students living in Australia than at the start of the pandemic, a drop of more than half.
That has left businesses in Sydney, home to a quarter of Australia’s 2.2 million casual workforce, struggling to find staff as the city emerges from four months of lockdowns.
The government of New South Wales state, of which Sydney is the capital, plans to resume taking modest numbers of international students and has said it wants immigration into Australia to double from pre-COVID levels to 400,000 people a year to fill labour shortages.
For now, the federal government, which enjoyed popular support for hard-line border closures early in the pandemic, is sticking with a staged reopening. It says only Australian citizens, residents and their family members may enter the country at present.
Even when foreign nationals return, many employers face a delay hiring them because they demand staff with local experience and proficient English.