Tighter domestic supply of key skills is driving Australian organisations to recruit overseas remote workers at more than twice the global average, according to new figures that come as the government fast-tracks nearly 60,000 skilled worker visas to support local demand.

The rate at which Australian organisations were hiring remote workers from overseas markets increased by 292 per cent in the first half of 2022 compared to the second half of last year, payroll and compliance provider Deel said in its latest State of Global Hiring report.

That put Australian companies well ahead of countries like second-placed Singapore (170 per cent) and India (170 per cent), and twice the global year-on-year growth of 145 per cent.

The figures, which are derived from Deel’s analysis of more than 100,000 worker contracts –including over 1,000 from Australia – highlights the degree to which pandemic-era remote work has created new opportunities for Australian companies to find the staff they want when local markets struggle to keep up with demand amidst ongoing low unemployment.

“Businesses around Australia are dealing with one of the tightest employment markets in history,” Deel ANZ head of expansion Shannon Karaka said as the new figures were released, “but those that are willing to broaden their horizons are finding high-quality talent from a number of other markets in the region and around the world.”

Countries like Argentina and India are capitalising on surging demand for product and design roles, Deel found, with London, Toronto, and Buenos Aires the most popular cities for sourcing remote workers.

Software engineers were the most popular roles in the APAC region, where Australian companies were the top hirers.

Australian firms were particularly looking to the Philippines – where hiring surged by 307 per cent during the first half of this year – to source staff for creative solutions, virtual assistants, and market research associates.

Australian companies were also hiring heavily from India – where demand increased by 185 per cent over the first half of this year, on the back of hiring for enrolment advisors, digital marketing specialists, and sales development roles.

“Talent is evenly distributed,” Karaka said, “but opportunities aren’t – and remote work is helping to bridge that divide in a way that makes good economic sense for business leaders looking to hire top talent.”

Has Australia run out of talent?

Amidst an ongoing shortage of skilled workers – the newly launched ACS Digital Pulse 2022 report flagged ongoing demand that will add 300,000 workers to Australia’s tech workforce by 2026 – the figures reflect Australian employers’ growing acceptance of remote work as both desirable and commercially necessary.

Buoyed by recognition that Australia’s Byzantine visa processes are unable to meet surging demand for skills, Australian employers’ outreach to overseas workers is a short-term solution for filling yawning skills gaps – particularly as Australian employers are competing in a global market for the same employees that are being targeted by major tech firms.

Remote work has been linked to massive economic savings and employee satisfaction, with remote workers found to be better paid and less likely to leave – except when poached by overseas rivals.

Fluidity in the jobs market has created enough workforce challenges that the Australian government is fast-tracking the permanent visa applications of nearly 60,000 workers – particularly in highly pressured areas such as healthcare, nursing, and teaching.

In the wake of nearly two years of closed borders, Australia has “a business community and an economy that’s crying out for more workers and an enormous visa backlog,” Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil recently said.

“The really urgent priority… is what we can do within the constraints of the current system to quickly work through that backlog.”

Ongoing challenges in domestic supply, ACS President Dr Nick Tate noted, have made current policies “a risky strategy”.

“We’ve been keeping just ahead of the game by importing huge numbers of workers from overseas,” he said, noting that nearly half of all IT workers in Australia were born overseas.

“There is so much that can be done and needs to be done domestically to improve the technology worker pipeline,” Tate said, encouraging local businesses to work with schools, provide mentorship and assistance for students, and upskill their own workers.

Local companies “need to abandon ‘fire and replace’ hiring practices and do the work of making sure that staff skillsets are regularly refreshed,” he said.

“If businesses and governments want Australia to lead to the world, we have a lot of work to do.”