Australia Miners Pitch Tent in Texas

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Bookface/Instagran legend
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Mar 31, 2004
Australia Miners Pitch Tent in Texas
By John W. Miller | The Wall Street Journal – Fri, May 25, 2012 12:01 AM EDT
The U.S. hasn't traditionally been a source for skilled migrants, but with an 8.1% unemployment rate, well above Australia's 4.9% jobless rate, more Americans are willing to pick up and move.
"It's really hard in this country," said Greg Gilbert, a 48-year-old union carpenter currently unemployed and living in his daughter's apartment in Galveston, Texas.
Rafat Al-Nakkash, 49, who emigrated to Houston from Iraq in 2010 and has a degree as a civil engineer, came to the fair because he can't find work in his field. "I've only found a job at the Home Depot," he says.
Australia chose Houston for its inaugural U.S. fair because "it has a labor market of 130,000 workers in sectors like construction, oil and gas," said Sandi Logan, a spokesman for the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
He notes that Australia and Texas have some things in common. "We speak English, we have McDonald's, [and] just a slightly different form of footie," Australian slang for football.
Unions in Australia say companies should train Australians instead of recruiting Americans. "Australian workers across the nation deserve the opportunity to benefit from the resources boom," Ged Kearney, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, said.
Firms counter that they don't have time. "The companies can't afford to wait four or five years to get workers trained," said Lindsay O'Sullivan, representing the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia. He was in Houston recruiting for companies looking for 25 workers and willing to pay between $100,000 and $500,000, the latter for an engineer on an oil rig.
Australian officials said companies must demonstrate that the jobs being advertised to foreign workers are in categories classified as "undersupplied." They also note that without an influx of skilled labor, several dozen mining projects, valued at over $100 billion combined, could be delayed, which would hurt Australian workers, too.
Most of the Houston workers would come to Australia via a "temporary skilled migrant" program and would be sponsored by companies. The government currently is issuing about 90,000 such visas a year, allowing a worker in for up to four years.
"We used to think only in terms of permanent migration," says Peter Speldewinde, assistant secretary for the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship. "Now we look at people coming over for three or four years."
At the fair, employers and government officials collected resumes and answered questions. Dawn King, one of nine Australian embassy officials who flew in from Washington, D.C., fielded questions, the most common being: "Do Kangaroos bite?" Pointing to a map, she noted that Australia was about the same size as the U.S. "Flying from DC to LA is like flying from Sydney to Perth," she said.
Tyler Carpenter, an 18-year-old high school senior from Cleveland, Texas, in cowboy boots, jeans and a T-shirt, has worked with welding and construction in the family business. "My stepdad told me they're all into gas and oil," he said.
Mr. Logan, the Australian spokesman, thought chances were low that the young man would be hired.
Welder Dan O'Neill, a 47-year-old veteran, had just been laid off in Los Angeles when he heard about the fair. He fired up his Silverado Z71 and drove for two days. "I'd love to get a fresh start in Australia," he said. "California's done."
Jason Brendel, a 38-year-old electrician, flew with three other electricians from Chicago, after hearing about the fair at his local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers office.
Jim Spellane, an IBEW spokesman, said the union isn't backing the initiative out of deference to unemployed unionized Australians. "That's not how we operate," he said.
A few days after the fair, Mr. Wade, the 65-year-old pipe fitter, received an email from an Australian recruiting company seeking his résumé. "All they gotta do is say 'get on a plane' and I'll be gone," he says.