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AUSTRALIA – Latest Immigration Updates

After the recent federal election in Australia, it is predicted that the Liberal-National coalition will secure a majority government with at least 77 seats. So what does this mean for the immigration program?

New Regional Visas

As advised in our earlier update, the Government announced two new regional visa categories - the subclass 491 Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) visa and the subclass 494 Skilled Employer-Sponsored visa, with a plan to introduce these visas in November 2019. These include a potential pathway to permanent residence under the proposed Subclass 191 Permanent Residence (Skilled Regional) visa.

These visas promise priority processing and a greater list of eligible occupations compared to those in the major cities. The re-election of the coalition affords some surety that these visas will commence as intended in November 2019.

Pathway to become an accredited sponsor through a major investment in Australia

In the months before the election, the immigration authorities also announced a new category of accredited sponsor – Major Investment in Australia. This Government has shown a commitment to expanding the Accredited Sponsorship scheme and now that the election is over, we expect to see further policy guidance on this new category released.

The current information available states that an investment in Australia of at least AUD 50 million over the preceding five years before lodgement of an application is required and this must be shown to provide a direct benefit to generating employment in Australia. This presents a pathway to those businesses that cannot currently meet the requirement of an employment ratio of at least 75% Australians to foreign nationals.

Skilling Australians Fund (SAF) update

As part of the passing of the legislation to introduce the SAF, an amendment was accepted to review the operation of the SAF levy after 18 months following royal assent. This timing will mean that the review should be around November 2019. There are concerns within the immigration industry about the strict conditions for refunding the SAF, which do not allow for a refund when the nomination has been refused or withdrawn.

Newland Chase will be advocating for a widening of the refund provisions in the lead up to this review. As noted below, large numbers of nominations are being refused. With the refund provisions as they are, this only enforces the need to lodge quality applications that meet all relevant criteria up front.

Interesting Freedom of Information statistics

The Department of Home Affairs has provided some interesting data under the Freedom of Information Act, showing the number of subclass 457 or 482 nominations that have been approved or refused from 1 November 2016 to 31 January 2019, by occupation.

The data shows that over this period, close to 10% of the total nominations were refused with a further 7% decided otherwise, most likely withdrawn. There were some occupations where the refusal rate was much higher including fleet manager (50%), customer service manager (47%), facilities manager (40%), and web administrator (32%). Occupations with very low refusal rates included general practitioner (5%) and university lecturer (2%). The highest number of refusals were in the hospitality industry (restaurant managers, cooks and chefs).

Designated Area Migration Agreements (DAMA)

The Australian Government will also roll out more Designated Area Migration Agreements (DAMA) across Australia to incentivise people to settle outside the major capitals. Notably, the South Australian Government has entered into two DAMAs with the Department of Home Affairs which are expected to come into effect on 1 July 2019:

  1. Adelaide Technology and Innovative Advancement Agreement – focuses on Adelaide’s technology industries, including defence, space, technology and advanced manufacturing industries. This agreement covers the Adelaide Metropolitan region.
  2. South Australian Regional Workforce Agreement – focuses on South Australia’s regional industries including agribusiness, forestry, health and social services, tourism and hospitality, construction and mining. This agreement covers the entire State of South Australia.

The DAMAs will enable South Australian Employers to sponsor skilled and semi-skilled overseas workers with greater flexibility (including a concession on the threshold salary) than that which is available in the standard skilled visa program. The Cairns Chamber of Commerce in North Queensland is also expected to soon announce a DAMA to address skill shortages in that area of regional Australia.

Senate inquiry into Temporary Skill Shortage visas

In April 2019, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee released a report assessing the effectiveness of the current temporary skilled visa system. The report considered the temporary skilled visa system’s capacity to address genuine skill shortages, and made a number of recommendations to reform aspects of the system.

Recommendations included:

  • Increase the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) to a minimum of AUD 62,000 indexed annually (Recommendation 2);
  • Review and update of health policies to ensure that temporary visa applicants will not be rejected on health grounds, where there is no possibility of health and social services costs accruing to the Commonwealth or state and territory governments (Recommendation 3);
  • Greater transparency in the Government’s administration of skilled occupation lists, including publishing reasons for adding and removing occupations (Recommendation 4);
  • Greater scrutiny into skills assessments and licencing (Recommendation 5) and more stringent requirements for labour market testing (Recommendation 8).

The report and the recommendations were released during the election, and there has been no formal response from the Government. Whether any recommendations will lead to substantive change remains to be seen, but the Government’s response is expected in the coming months.

Our advice

The re-election of the Liberal-National coalition should see further stability in the employer-sponsored visa categories which will be welcomed by business. For those businesses which do not already hold ‘Accredited Sponsorship’ status, it should be a priority to obtain this status, which will continue to provide significant benefits for business.

Finally, for those businesses operating in regional areas, the proposed implementation of new regional visas in November 2019 as well as the new DAMAs, should provide some much needed immigration options for those businesses that continue to find it difficult to source all required skills from local labour markets.

  • For advice specific to your business, please contact your Newland Chase immigration professional.
  • For general advice and information on immigration and business travel to Australia, or anywhere in the world, please email us at [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this immigration alert has been abridged from laws, court decisions, and administrative rulings and should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice. If you have specific questions regarding the applicability of this information, please contact Peregrine © 2021 Peregrine Immigration Management Ltd.