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AUSTRALIA - Immigration Developments for Employers

, 14/03/2019

Changes to Skilled Occupation Lists

On 11 March 2019, new legislative instruments, listing the skilled occupations that are relevant if applying for a number of skilled visas, came into effect.

The most significant change was for the General Skilled Migration (Independent) category with 36 occupations added to the Medium and Long Term Skilled Shortage List (MLTSSL). Many of these occupations are in science related fields, such as biotechnology, marine biology and environmental research. Also included in the MLTSSL are Tennis Coach, Footballer and Musician, allowing people with sporting and musical talents to apply for a permanent visa, independent of an employer sponsor.

There were also changes in the temporary employer sponsored (TSS) visa category with occupations such as dancer, pressure welder, tennis coach and footballer moved from the TSS Short Term Skilled Occupations List (STSOL) to the TSS MLTSSL, and occupations such as chemical plant operator removed from all TSS lists. There are also changes to caveats, such as a reduced minimum salary of AUD 80,000 (down from AUD 90,000) for Recruitment Consultants.

General Practitioners (GP) and Resident Medical Officers (RMO) will now need to hold a current health workforce certificate. The aim of this requirement is to direct doctors into regional areas of Australia where access to medical services is in greater need. The health workforce certificate will also be required for GPs and RMOs applying for a permanent employer sponsored visa.

There are now 216 occupations available for permanent employer sponsored visas and 673 occupations available if the employer is located in a regional area of Australia, which represents a minor increase.

New option to gain accredited sponsorship

Accredited sponsorship is available for certain employers sponsoring workers for a TSS visa and provides for more streamlined processing arrangements. There were previously four categories, summarised as follows:

Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies;
Australian Trusted Trader;
Low-volume user with at least 85% of the workforce Australian;
High-volume user with at least 75% of the workforce Australian.

The Minister for Immigration has recently announced a fifth category – Major Investment in Australia. This requires that the company has made an investment of at least AUD 50 million which has directly generated Australian employment, and has a history of lodging successful sponsorship applications and employing Australians according to National Employment Standards.

This provides the opportunity for access to streamlined processing for businesses that cannot meet the current 75% or 85% Australian workforce profiles.

Issues with the Skilling Australians Fund (SAF)

The Immigration Department has reiterated the requirements for applying for refunds of the SAF and stressed again the there is no refund in cases where the nomination is refused.

A recent Freedom of Information (FOI) report obtained by a migration industry professional and shared by our peak membership association, the Migration Institute of Australia, shows that 2070 nomination applications were refused and 254 nominations were withdrawn between 14 August 2018 and 31 December 2018.

Assuming that the minimum amount of SAF payments were made on these refused or withdrawn nominations, the report implies a staggering AUD 7 million dollars has been collected by the Australian Government for TSS nomination applications that went nowhere.

Immigration industry and professional industry groups are currently lobbying the Government to amend the legislation and allow refunds or partial refunds of the SAF in the case of Nomination refusal or withdrawal, however, the indications from the Immigration are that this is unlikely to be changed, at least in the short term.

This reinforces the importance of ensuring complete applications are lodged with all relevant criteria addressed, particularly given the immigration department is now much less likely to provide the opportunity to provide further documentation or information post lodgement.

Global Talent Visa scheme (GTS)

Just a reminder that the GTS was introduced on 1 July 2018 as a pilot scheme to assist employers filling a small number of highly specialised and niche roles, when an Australia is not available to fill the role. The scheme requires the employer to enter into an agreement with the Immigration Department to sponsor workers on TSS visas, without being restricted to any occupation lists and allowing for negotiations on concessions to the normal requirements.

The visas are valid for up to four years, with a pathway to a permanent visa, again allowing for concessions on the usual requirements, such as age restrictions.

From experience, there has not been a significant take-up of this visa category, but employers should be reminded of this option which can have benefits depending on the profile of the business and the skills required.

Action Items

Employers who may be affected are encouraged to contact their immigration specialist for case-specific advice.