Pilbara councils want to import foreign workers for smaller businesses in the retail, hospitality and other sectors that are struggling to secure local employees.
Pilbara Regional Council chief executive Tony Friday told ABC radio today that the council had written to Federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, flagging its intention to apply for a Regional Migration Agreement.
The Pilbara Regional Council includes the shires of Ashburton, East Pilbara and Roebourne and the town of Port Hedland.
The RMA program was announced by the Government in the 2011/12 budget.
Mr Friday said no RMA visas had been issued yet, but they were being considered for Darwin.
The agreements were effectively the same as 457 visas, but concessions would be sought around the type of skills and qualifications that were eligible under RMAs, he said.
He said local businesses in the Pilbara had spoken of “enormous difficulty” in finding enough staff for retail, hospitality, trades, social services and the public sector.
Mr Friday said discussions were being held with parties in China and The Philippines, with support from the Australia-China Business Council and Australia's ambassador to the Philippines.
“This is not in place of local staff,” he said.
“There's still an enormous amount of paperwork and compliance requirements - it's considerably easier to employ local staff.
“If you can't get them, then we look at internal migration from the Eastern States and other areas within our own state, and really, sponsoring an employee from overseas is a last resort.”
That last resort was “available to only the very large end of town at the moment, not the small to medium-sized employers“, he said.
Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting has sealed an Enterprise Migration Agreement for its $10 billion Roy Hill iron ore project in the Pilbara.
Mr Friday said the Pilbara Regional Council was studying how many foreign workers would be needed.