Darwin restaurateur Jimmy Shu sceptical of new skilled migrant agreement, given recent hiring woes
A Darwin restauranteur is doubtful a new skilled migrant agreement will ease his woes with Australia’s immigration policies, which currently have him so frustrated he is considering leaving the country.
- A new agreement will soon be signed allowing NT businesses to sponsor overseas workers in industries experiencing labour shortages
- It will also provide a pathway to permanent residency
- A previous version of the agreement saw less than 60 skilled workers endorsed in two years
For the past seven years Jimmy Shu’s attempts to employ highly skilled South East Asian chefs have failed because they were unable to pass the English test required for a visa.
It left him unable to fill key roles at his Darwin and Alice Springs restaurants, establishments where he credits the success to his chefs from Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, India and Indonesia.
“The main thing for me is that English test,” Mr Shu said.
“Every chef whom I’ve brought, bar two of them, did not have this English.
“But they have assimilated very well. They’ve become citizens. And they now speak very good English.”
This week the Northern Territory and Federal Government are set to renew their Designated Area Migration Agreement — to be called DAMA II — allowing Northern Territory businesses to sponsor overseas workers in industries experiencing labour shortages.
Even though chefs were included, they will still be required to undertake an English test.
But they will be eligible for an English concession, meaning the bar will be set slightly lower in order to “reflect employer requirements whilst still maintaining good settlement outcomes”.
It was an unsatisfactory solution in Mr Shu’s eyes, who said he had previously offered alternatives to ensure his workers learned English once they came to Australia and believed government should have consulted more thoroughly with industry leaders on the plan.
“I’ve offered to send my chefs in Darwin to the Charles Darwin University and study English for two years at my own costs, and then after two years accept them,” he said.
“I’ve offered that, but it’s all fallen on deaf ears.”
He pointed to the head chef at his Darwin restaurant Hanuman, Naimar Ali, who could not speak a word of English when he came to Australia 14 years ago, but could cook an excellent Thai curry from scratch.
“Mr Ali, he has got amazing skills of cooking curry,” Mr Shu said.
“I can easily say no one — in the Northern Territory especially — could challenge his skills.
“[Yet] He came with zero English, from India.”
Mr Ali, who now speaks English, said he believed it was his cod curry and ability to blend spices that secured him the job, saying his boss didn’t like anything “ready-made”.
Hanuman head chef Nainar Ali could not speak a word of English when he moved to the NT in 2004. (ABC News: Emily Smith)
Pathway to permanent residency
The new agreement will provide a pathway to permanent residency for DAMA visa-holders, setting it apart from its predecessor, the DAMA I, which has been in place for the past three years.
But Mr Shu said this would not be particularly useful as the English test would continue to cause setbacks.
He also said he had not received any benefit from the current agreement, set to expire at the end of the month.
It seems other employers across the Northern Territory have also faced difficulties, with less than 60 skilled workers successfully endorsed in the past two years under the current DAMA program.
According to figures from the NT Department of Trade, Business and Innovation’s latest annual report, 27 were endorsed in 2016-2017, while 32 were endorsed this financial year.
Mr Shu is so fed up with the current state of affairs, that he may set up shop internationally or retire.
“I’ve had a gutful of the immigration policies in Australia. And I’m now looking at overseas,” Mr Shu said.
“We [in Darwin] are not going to keep growing, I can tell you that. Especially the hospitality scene.
“I use that phrase: ‘The writing is on the wall’.”
‘New and improved’: Chamber of Commerce
But Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Greg Bicknell was enthusiastic about the new deal, because of pathway to permanent residency, which he described as “super critical to our long-term survival of the Territory”.
“‘New and improved’ I think is the right description of it,” he said.
“We’ve certainly pushed the need for this as a long-term requirement for the Northern Territory.
“We’ve seen skilled visa programs over the last 12 months become more complex and we’ve seen the removal of the transition to permanent residency for some people under those visas which is a real challenge in trying to attract people to the Northern Territory.
“This new agreement will open the pathways to those people who come in.”
Mr Bicknell believed there would be a greater take-up this time around, but said it was incumbent on the NT Government and the business community to promote it.
NT Minister for Training Selena Uibo said the new agreement would complement the Territory Labor Government’s recently released population strategy, which aims to attract people to live and work in the NT.
“Every Territorian benefits when we attract more people to the Territory,” she said.
“More people means more jobs and a stronger economy, which means better schools, better hospitals and more police.”
The DAMA II agreement will last until 2023.
The Federal Government is currently in discussions with a range of other regions around the country experiencing skill shortages, including the Pilbara and the Kalgoorlie-Boulder regions in WA, Cairns in Far North Queensland, and the Orana region in central NSW.
Warrnambool on Victoria’s south-west coast is expected to have a DAMA in place before the end of the year.
While you’re here… are you feeling curious?