An acute shortage of skilled workers in the region and the easing of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions is behind a spike in interest in the region's migration program.
Aged care and childcare providers are now jumping onboard with the program to help fill a major shortage in those sectors.
Warrnambool City Council's director of city growth Andrew Paton said once the COVID-19 restrictions scaled back late last year, there was an increase in inquiries under its Great South Coast Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) program.
He said the spike in inquiries was driven by the acute shortage of skilled workers across the region.
Mr Paton said since the DAMA program was launched in March 2019, the council had endorsed 26 businesses to enter into a skilled migration labour agreement for 164 workers across the region.
But the closure of international borders had put a handbrake on the scope of the project.
"Despite this obstacle, some 11 businesses took the opportunity to access the DAMA program over the past 12 months and an additional four businesses sought a deed of variation to their DAMA labour agreement to recruit extra workers under their agreement," Mr Paton said.
The dairy sector makes up about 60 per cent of the DAMA applications endorsed, Mr Paton said.
"Previously the dairy sector had access to backpackers and other short-term visa programs but with international borders closed, this impacted greatly and there are overseas workers already in Australia seeking some job security and a regional lifestyle," he said.
"Dairy farm operators are keen to secure a longer term workforce, and as the DAMA program requires the workers to be employed by the business for three years before being eligible for permanent residency, it is an appealing option."
Cr Ben Blain recent changes changes to the DAMA program were exciting for the city.
"There were new jobs added to try and help the region's skills shortage in childcare, aged care and aquaculture which it definitely areas we need more support in," Cr Blain said.
Information sessions were held this month for the childcare and aged-care sectors which were well attended, Mr Paton said.
"There are two providers already commencing the application process and over the next month we will have a better indication of the uptake but early signals are that these additional occupations under the DAMA program have been well received," he said.
The council allocates two days a week to run the program which is financed by the Department of Home Affairs.
"If demand continues to rise, council will seek further financial support to increase this resourcing on behalf of the region," Mr Paton said.
IN OTHER NEWS:
He said skilled migration had been the major source of population growth in the region throughout 2019 and 2020.
"The closure of international borders is expected to have some impact on sources of population growth across the six municipalities of the Great South Coast," Mr Paton said.
The council's role in administering the DAMA program is to work with businesses to assist them in their application, and also make a decision on endorsing them to the Department of Home Affairs, but it does not play a role in the recruitment process.
"We often receive inquiries from individuals, and anecdotally this has increased since the beginning of this year," he said.
The region's housing shortage is also having an impact on the program.
As part of the council's responsibility to endorse the businesses seeking to access DAMA, the businesses must show there are accommodation options available within a reasonable distance of the intended workplace as part of their DAMA application.
"In most cases dairy farms have a house on the property as part of the workers package and other industries need to demonstrate the accommodation is available prior to being endorsed," he said.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:
Now just one tap with our new app: Digital subscribers now have the convenience of faster news, right at your fingertips with The Standard:
Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in the south-west.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.