Defence Industry and Overseas Workers

By Kinexus on 07 September 2017

Incoming aircraft

With defence industry being required to grow significantly over the next decade, new ways of growing an experienced workforce are needed. Here’s the situation as it stands regarding overseas workers.


On the face of it, it may not be obvious why immigration policy will have a major impact on defence industry. After all, almost all workers in defence industry need to have a security clearance, and for that you need Australian citizenship (more on this later).

At the core of the issue, is competition for workers. As adjacent industries, including rail, road and energy have grown, so has the demand for workers. The skill sets in highest demand in these sectors overlap with defence industry, meaning its harder to find engineering, ICT, cyber and PMO workers Australia-wide.

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted overseas migration, especially those on student or skilled work visas. Migrant arrivals in 2020 and 2021 dropped 31% and 29% respectively compared to 2019. This was compounded by high year-on-year migrant departures.

At the Jobs and Skills Summit, held in September 2022, visas and migration were hot topics. The Government has promised to make a number of changes that should go some way to addressing the skills shortage, including:

  • Increase in permanent Migration Program ceiling to 195,000 in 2022-23;

  • Extend visas and relax work restrictions on international students to strengthen the pipeline of skilled labour;

  • Provide $36 million of additional funding to accelerate visa processing and resolve the visa backlog;

  • Conduct a review of the purpose, structure and objectives of Australia’s migration system to ensure it meets the challenges of the coming decade;

  • Examine the potential for industry sponsorship of skilled migrants.

More details can be found here:

These are positive steps towards addressing the skills shortage, although it’s too early to understand the real impact these policy changes will have.

Security Clearances

That old chestnut.

At Kinexus, we have seen many examples of expat workers with very rare skill sets having to return to their home country because they have not been able to secure employment here solely because local industry is unable to get them a security clearance. This is despite each individual usually operating under a waiver as they are cleared in their home country.

It may not be as simple as one country’s clearance automatically translating to another, but the ADF has systems in place to cope with very similar circumstances and is able to transfer clearances from other country’s armed forces with relative ease.

The AUKUS agreement, announced 12 months ago, may bring some changes for security cleared individuals from other Five Eyes countries, although this remains to be seen.

What is clear though, is that industry is missing a valuable source of potential recruits as a result of this policy.


Many Australian engineering and project management professionals made the move overseas when our defence industry contracted from 2010-2016. These people have since gained invaluable overseas experience that they can combine with their previous Australian experience, and Aussie defence industry now has the challenging opportunities that will entice them back.

Any way that we can efficiently grow the industry gene pool will ultimately help us reduce risk and cost, and being innovative with the way we access the global supply of talent is an obvious place to look.

For more information on defence industry trends, reach out to our team on

** This blog has been updated in 2022 to reflect more recent defence industry trends.

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