WA's migrant boom over

(c) Sunday Times Cortlan Bennett

WA'S migrant worker boom may be over, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

At the height of the resources boom, in the three months to March, 2008, WA's population was growing by about 253 people a week.

This included arrivals from overseas and the eastern states, less those who had left.

But the latest ABS figures show the number of net arrivals to WA has slowed to just 215 people a week _ down 15 per cent.

While overseas arrivals have remained steady, the number of people leaving WA has risen dramatically.

In the March 2008 quarter, 17,714 people arrived from overseas, while 6275 West Australians went the other way.

However, just six months later, during the December quarter, 17,556 people arrived from overseas while those departing had jumped to 7844 _ a significant 25 per cent increase.

Arrivals and departures to the eastern states showed a similar trend.

In the March 2008 quarter, WA grew by a net 1710 arrivals.

By December 2008, that had fallen 15.4 per cent to 1446.

The December quarter figures are the latest compiled by the ABS, but the March 2009 figures _ as well as the quarter ending June 30 _ are expected to show even bigger falls.

Since December, a number of large mines have closed and WA unemployment has risen sharply, from 3.6 per cent to 5 per cent in May _ the highest jobless level since July 2004.

While the flood of new arrivals during the mining boom pushed housing prices to record levels, any exodus could have a reverse effect.

WA last had a net outflow of residents to the eastern states in June 2003, while there has not been a net fall in overseas migrants since June 1993.

Chamber of Minerals and Energy director Nicole Roocke said the WA sector had slowed since the downturn.

"Certainly in the last quarter of last year there were some significant announcements of projects being delayed ... so it doesn't surprise me those (net migration) numbers have dropped,'' she said.

While some workers had finished contracts and returned to the eastern states, others continued to work in WA but were flying in and out.

"The North-West is a great example of that,'' Ms Roocke said.

"There are now direct flights from the North-West to the east coast, and that's primarily people who are choosing to live on the east coast but who want to work in the resources sector in WA.

"But people moving to WA to live, as the data is showing, that's slowing down.''

Bell Recruitment Group WA business development manager Richard McDonogh said project delays had freed up many local workers.

"With the projects on hold, a huge talent pool is on hold as well,'' he said.

"The whole 457 visa issue has (also) quietened somewhat, so we're seeing fewer skilled workers coming in.

"Employers certainly are more inclined to employ locally _ they're not looking outside as much.''
Allstar Recruitment Group state manager Jamie Macfarlane had seen a similar trend.

"The limitation on 457 visas has definitely had some impact,'' he said.

"If you go back a year or so ago, it was a case of companies saying: 'Just find me who you can. (We) don't care about sponsoring and how much it costs to bring them over and relocate _ we just need people'.

"Now, because there are obviously more people on the market, it's quite natural to at least start locally."


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