Canberra businesses are looking abroad to attract talent in last-ditch attempts to keep shopfronts staffed.
But the red tape of the migration system has left many frustrated.
"You don't even have staff enough to just keep your head above water," said Anthony Niravong, director of the Old Bus Depot Markets, La Terre day spa and grocery store the Daily Market.
"We were advertising for a long time and got to a point where, 'What do we do'? So we started looking abroad."
Canberra's unemployment rate dropped to 3.2 per cent in April, with businesses reporting for months they were scrambling to find staff, as COVID infections and exposures compounded the situation.
Competition across the private and public sectors for a small talent pool in Canberra had also created a "churn" effect whereby employers struggled to retain staff.
Mr Niravong and chief operating officer Vivian Song recently travelled to the Philippines to interview three candidates for roles.
In desperate need of a massage therapist for their day spa, Ms Song said she had advertised the position "three or four times" and approached students at CIT with no results.
"We went out there to the Philippines ourselves to make sure that we were experiencing the quality," Mr Niravong said. "We weren't just looking at getting anyone, we were looking for the right person for the right role."
Sponsoring foreign workers was not ideal for Mr Niravong and Ms Song, with requirements around skill levels and wait times dragging out the process when their shopfronts needed staff urgently.
"There is a standard of salary requirements in Australia and we can definitely meet that, there's no issues [there] whatsoever," Ms Song said.
"We just hope the government can make the process ... a bit more practical."
Long processing times "exceeding four or five months" for visas have become standard, Canberra migration agent John Hourigan said.
Employers in Canberra can sponsor skilled workers for three visa categories, which offer different streams.
For Employer Nomination Scheme visas, one of the three options, the period in which 90 per cent of visas were finalised can range from eight to 25 months, the Department of Home Affairs said.
Mr Hourigan was receiving inquiries from businesses across the board, from IT to allied health, hospitality and trade.
"Employers that I speak to are screaming out for workers and they just can't get them quick enough, because the processes are just too involved," he said.
"I just simply think the system is clogged up with that many applications."
To hire a foreign worker in a skilled position, employers first need to advertise the vacancy for 28 days on the government's Jobactive website. The visa applicant then needs to apply and wait until the department processes and grants the visa before travelling to the country.
Mr Hourigan said the labour market testing period of 28 days was an unnecessary hurdle for applicants and employers.
"You know there's a skilled shortage of workers, so why should employees have to wait 28 days before they can ever launch any paperwork?" he asked
Mr Song added: "It's not very practical for us to bring foreign workers from developing countries. I hope that can change."
Canberra Business Chamber chief executive Graham Catt said: "Complexity, cost, long wait times when it comes to obtaining a visa are things that make it harder to actually secure that worker and get that worker to come to Australia, and in our case to come to the ACT."
Mr Catt said employers looking to sponsor foreign workers were often in need of particular skillsets.
"It really is actually not a case of, 'There's someone else down the road that can actually fill that role'," he said.
"[Employers are] looking to get these people here and are looking to sponsor those workers because they have a very particular set of requirements."
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