Meet a member: Michael Bull of Immigration Consultants Group (Australia)
Michael (Mick) Bull is the director of Immigration Consultants Group (Australia) (ICGA), which has worked with many Tuna Australia members to find and secure overseas crew members. Tuna Australia spoke with Mick to learn more about his company, discuss the impacts of COVID and glean insights into current immigration issues for the fishing industry.
Can you tell us about your business? What services does (and can) ICGA provide to Tuna Australia members?
ICGA was born back in 2006 following a restructure of business operations with a previous partnership. I have been a registered migration consultant since 2003 and have worked with the fishing industry since 2010.
The ethos of ICGA is to provide a complete service to clients. Often, we step well outside the visa process to support our fishing clients with many different matters, some completely unrelated to the visa process. We also provide an ongoing visa/migration advisory service to our fishing companies and all foreign crew and their family members at no cost.
ICGA has a strong presence in the fishing industry. How did this come about?
It all began about a hundred years ago… Actually, I was approached by Brett Taylor in 2009 to do a labour agreement (LA) for his company 4 Seas and Gary Heilmann’s De Bretts Seafood. In those early days, the LA program was not as streamlined as it is now, and we had to fight for every point and concession.
I think the reason we have been successful in serving the tuna industry is because we understand the industry and its unique set of problems. My team in Australia and the Philippines work hard to serve the needs of our fantastic clients in a timely and cost-effective manner.
How has the COVID landscape changed ICGA business practices as an ancillary service provider to our members?
COVID had a huge impact on our company. The whole focus of our business is bringing in migrants, so COVID ‘shut the front gate’ and 75 percent of our work dried up overnight. Then once the dust settled, we had to fight to get travel exemptions to allow our crews to enter Australia and join their vessels. Initially, we thought that the closed borders were going to last until September 2020. Here we are in November 2021 and still closed to much of the world (with some exemptions)!
Getting crews has been and still is a long and painful process. Indonesia and the Philippines—the two source countries we work closely with—were hit hard by the first wave and then the Delta strain. This made movement of crew within their provinces next to impossible for a long time, let alone getting them to Australia. The time-consuming travel exemption process appears to have ended now. We have absorbed this cost but, as we are all aware, this was not sustainable in the long term so a relaxing of travel barriers is a welcome relief.
One good thing from COVID is that it has forced us [ICGA] to more fully embrace and invest in digital technology. Although, I still insist on a hard copy when doing final checks on applications and submissions!
What are some current issues in the immigration space that may affect member access to foreign crew?
The government has released the proposed agriculture visa but, personally, I never expected too much from it. For the fishing industry, I think that the government wants the current status quo to remain, given that they have invested in a review of the Fishing Industry Labour Agreement (FILA). As a result of that review, there have been some good outcomes negotiated between industry stakeholders and Minister Hawke, which we are currently acting on for our clients.
As Australia's international borders start to open, how will this affect access to foreign labour for the tuna industry?
As an industry, we have been fortunate to maintain a consistent flow of foreign crew into Australia under the critical skills exemption pathway. The bottlenecks, however, have been the restricted movement of crew from the Philippines and Indonesia in their countries and the difficulty of obtaining the necessary documentation from their government and other governments of countries they have visited in the last 10 years. Only then can we prepare and lodge applications and organise COVID testing and booking flights.
I do not see the process being streamlined any time soon, other than an easing of access to flights and at more affordable prices. If we can keep up the flow of experienced foreign workers into Australia, ICGA will continue working in the background to make this happen as part of our long-term partnerships with our loyal Tuna Australia members.
What's your favourite way to enjoy tuna? Can you share your favourite recipe?
As an internationally acclaimed non-cook, I rely upon my favourite restaurant, Fish on Parkyn, to surprise me (but never with sushimi).