Staff shortages never been so desperate. It’s easy to look back to 2018 when hundreds of thousands of people arrived on work, student and holiday visas.

Sponsoring overseas workers, with all its costs, has historically been seen as something for pubs and large groups rather than individual restaurants and cafés. But it could be worth taking another look if you’re having to close or restrict business hours due to lack of staff.

I recently spoke to Chief Recruiter Geremy Glew from Placed Recruitment and Migration Agent Justin Browne from Edupi who both reminded me staff shortages are globally widespread. But all is not lost. When you understand how to support visitors seeking permanent residence and work opportunities, there is a pool of potential workers to draw on. While it is more competitive and Australia is an expensive country to live in, you can make it work.

There are several points to consider before looking to recruit overseas workers:

• Become a government-approved sponsor or nominator. The Department of Home Affairs website has the details.

• Work with an immigration agent. The world of visas and work obligations is complex and constantly changing, especially with a new government. There’s a cost, but it’s
much less than DIY and making mistakes — or remaining closed.

• Understand your obligations. If workers arrive directly from overseas, they will need help to settle into a new country. You also need special registration with the tax department when you pay them.

• Realise it can be a transient workforce. Some will stay and many will go. They can also find another sponsor if there’s a better opportunity — they are not indentured only to you.

Glew further elaborates on factors operators need to think about such as how to deal with new workers when it comes to communication.

“There can be subtle differences, especially for a chef coming straight into a senior role, when it comes to directing, giving feedback and reprimanding,” he says. “Talking directly may be rare in one culture and being blunt could be the base level of communication in another. Working out a new country’s way of working can take time.

“It can also be a shock when someone goes from being a CDP with a team of 12 to being part of a three-person kitchen team. Overseas staff need to be part of a multi-level strategy with full-time, part-time, casual, trainees, local and overseas sponsored staff and working holiday makers.

If you find a good person, you can take them on — flexibility is the name of the game.” Browne recommends ironing out a strategy to minimise any issues when bringing in new workers. “Have a good induction program that is staged and structured,” he says. “Ensure the new chef has a buddy who keeps an eye on them.

“Assist with initial accommodation and life-management components (banking, Medicare, etc.) and check in regularly to make sure they are ok. I think the new government will combine the different visa lists and eliminate the short-term list, giving everyone access to permanent residency through the transitional stream and a wider list for direct entry stream.”

There’s a lot to consider, and like many things post-COVID, hospitality management now needs to find other solutions. Sponsored immigration is part of the new normal.