Australia immigration changes to watch out for July

The 1st of July marked the beginning of the new immigration program year for Australia. This is when the Australian Govt. sets quotas for skilled migration. The Govt. also plans levels for state sponsorship spots at the beginning of the immigration program year.

With the beginning of the new program year, here are the changes to watch out for:

  1. Visa fee increase

Beginning on the 1st of July, most visa subclasses will see a 5.4% increase in the Visa fee. Student Visa fee increases from $575 to $606. Skilled Migration Visa fee increases from $3,755 to $3,958 while Partner Visa fee increases from $7,160 to $7,547.

However, the Visa fee for Contributory Parent Visa (Subclass 143) and Visitor Visa (Subclass 600) will remain unchanged.

  1. Changes in the points-test system for skilled migration

The changes in the points-test system for skilled migration will come into effect from November 2019. Some noteworthy changes are extra points to single applicants and awarding points for partner English skills.

  1. Partner Visa rules to become tougher

The Partner Visa of Australia will undergo procedural changes from 1st July. Starting from July, Australian partners would need to be approved first before they can sponsor their spouse or common-law partner. The background and character assessment of the Australian sponsor has to be approved before lodging the Partner Visa application. These procedural changes will also make the processing time longer.

  1. DAMA (Designated Area Migration Agreements)

The DAMA allows employers from a particular region to recruit overseas workers. The DAMA allows them to sponsor workers who may not be on the Australian occupation list. The workers also receive a concession on salary, experience and English requirement.  The DAMA also provides a pathway to Permanent Residence for these overseas workers.

The below regions are currently eligible for DAMA:

Starting 1st July 2019, employers are able to submit applications for participating in the program.

This Australian sector is struggling with a massive labour shortage

Australia is planning a number of rail and infrastructure projects around the country. Once completed, they will make commuting much easier for passengers in Australia. However, the Building and Construction industry is struggling with a massive labour shortage. They are having a tough time filling in job vacancies to get these projects off the ground.

There is a major dearth of electricians and talented engineers in this industry. Building Contractors are finding it hard to find the right guys to connect the signalling systems to the new train lines.

As per the 2018 data from Seek, electricians were the most sought-after professionals in Australia in 2018. Electricians have the highest demand in the state of Victoria.

There are a number of current and projected infrastructure projects in the state of Victoria. This has significantly increased the demand for electricians in the state. With a large number of projects running, there is a huge demand for electricians with industrial and specialized experience.

Sebastian Fleury is the Regional Head of Rail Project Delivery of Aecom. He said that he could double his workforce provided he found enough skilled people to fill in the vacancies. He also said that Aecom currently has 40 to 50 open jobs. These are mostly civil, structure and geo-technical jobs.

With a large number of infrastructures projects, companies are competing with each other to attract and retain skilled workers. Companies often pay or steal workers from other contractors when they win two or three projects.

Joe Barr, CEO of John Holland, says that finding the right people especially in the engineering domain is a tough task. He said that his company focuses on developing and retaining the engineers that are currently working with them. His company gives them new opportunities and moves them into new projects when their old projects get over.

Pathways is an industry-first program in Melbourne. It helps skilled engineers from marginalized backgrounds get a foot in the door of the construction industry. These engineers are usually refugees or come from displaced industries.

It is not always possible to transfer skills from one industry to another. For example, domestic electricians are not qualified to work on railway tunnels. This is further forcing companies in Australia to look overseas for skilled workers.

What are the health requirements of an Australian Visa?

The Migration Regulations 1994 outlines the health requirements for an Australian Visa. This is under Schedule 4 of the Public Interest Criteria.

As per the Govt, there are 3 major objectives:

  1. To ensure public safety and to safeguard Australians against infectious diseases like TB
  2. To safeguard access for Australians to medical supplies which are in short supply like organ transplants
  3. To limit the spending on community and health services

The present protocol for enforcing the policy states that it is crucial for the country and its visa programs. It is to ensure that public health risks and health costs do not spike due to incoming travellers and migrants.

Advocates have, however, been critical of the cost of health requirement. They believe that it targets those with a permanent disability. This is a breach of the international human rights that Australia is obligated to follow. This is under the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Australian Govt. decides if the health costs need to be increased or not on something called the “Significant cost threshold” policy. Visa applicants who have a disability or medical condition do not meet the requirement. This happens when a Medical Officer of the Commonwealth deems that the cost of the medical condition is higher than that of the threshold. Australia has currently fixed the “significant cost threshold” at $40,000, as per SBS News.

For a Temporary Australian Visa, the probable cost of services is assessed for the validity of the visa. For example, an Australian Student Visa is usually valid for a period of 4 years. Thus, the predicted health costs are calculated at approximately $12,000 per year. Someone who does not meet this threshold will not be able to fulfil the requirement.

For Australia PR applicants who are under 75 years, whether the cost is exceeded or not is calculated by the costs incurred over 5 years. For Australian PR applicants who are above 75 years, the cost is calculated by the costs incurred over a period of 3 years.

Post-Election Immigration Update

The Australian federal election is over, and we expect that the Liberal National Party coalition will retain government for the next three years. There has been no announcement on changes to the Minister for Immigration as yet, so we will need to wait and see.

Regional Visas

A retained LNP government means some assurance that the announced subclass 491 Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) visa and the subclass 494 Skilled Employer Sponsored visa will commence in November 2019 as advised. The push to prioritise the movement of migrants into regional Australia will remain strong on this government’s agenda.

Designated Area Migration Agreements (DAMA)

Further DAMAs are in the works, supporting the regional push and assisting businesses in these areas to access skilled and semi-skilled overseas workers to meet their operational needs. There is greater flexibility in DAMA arrangements than in the Standard Business Sponsorship pathway, including access to a broad range of occupations, threshold salary concessions, and age concessions for permanent residency.

The Cairns Chamber of Commerce in North Queensland is currently in negotiations and is likely to announce a new DAMA in the coming months.

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– supports Adelaide Metropolitan region employers in the defence, space, and advanced manufacturing and technology industries with the ability to access and retain a highly-skilled workforce.
  2. South Australian Regional Workforce Agreement– covering the entire State of South Australia, this DAMA provides employers in the regional growth areas of agribusiness, health and aged care, hospitality and tourism, mining, and construction, with the ability to access and retain a skilled workforce.

Nomination Refusals – 457 and 482 (TSS)

Some interesting data has been released under the Freedom of Information Act, showing the subclass 457 or 482 nomination outcomes for applications lodged between 1 November 2016 to 31 January 2019.

According to the report, almost 10% of all nominations were refused, and a further 7% were ‘otherwise finalised’ or withdrawn.

Occupations with a high chance of refusal include Customer Service Manager (47%), Massage Therapist (40%), and Web Administrator (32%).

The greatest number of failed applications were in the hospitality occupations of Cafe or Restaurant Manager (1385 refusals, 698 withdrawn), Cook (1296 refusals, 788 withdrawn), and Chef (802 refusals, 496 withdrawn).

Skilling Australians Fund (SAF) Review

The released data also shows that there may be a large number of Australian businesses out of pocket, as the SAF levy is not refundable if the nomination is refused. Thankfully, the Skilling Australians Fund levy legislation is due to undergo a review in around November 2019, with many parties advocating for a change of the refund provisions.

Senate Inquiry into Temporary Skill Shortage visas

A report assessing the effectiveness of the current temporary skilled visa system was released in April 2019, with a focus on the temporary skilled visa system’s capacity to address genuine skill shortages. The Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee – who released the report – made a number of recommendations, including:

There has been no formal response from the Government at this stage, so we will wait and see if any of these recommendations will be implemented.

Accreditation through Major Investment

Earlier this year, Immigration announced a potential new category to become an accredited sponsor for Temporary Skills Shortage visas. The business would need to show an investment of at least AUD$50 million, though if the investment is of significance and will generate employment, a lower level may be considered on a case by case basis. No further policy information is available at this stage.

Immigration and the Budget

The Australian Government presented the 2019/2020 budget on Tuesday 2 April 2019, and as usual there were plenty of changes announced affecting the Immigration portfolio.

Lodgement Fee Increase

From 1 July 2019, visa application charges will increase for all visas except the Subclass 600 Visitor visas. The planned increase of 5.4% will see base application fees for a permanent skilled visa rise by just over $200 for a primary applicant, for a Graduate visa the increase will be just over $80, and for Partner visas there will be a whopping increase of $386.

Second Visa Application Charges, such as those for Parent visas and non-functional English for dependents will not be affected.

Cut to Immigration Numbers

The maximum number of visas available for the 2019/2020 program year will be lowered to 160,000, with the most significant cuts from the Skilled Independent and Employer Sponsored visa types. This is to make way for 23,000 places in the new regional visa program announced for November 2019.

Push to regional Australia

As we reported earlier, Immigration plans to introduce three new visas aimed at attracting migrants to regional areas of Australia. From 1 November 2019, the provisional employer sponsored and provisional work visas would be available, with the permanent Skilled Regional visa available from November 2022.

The definition of ‘regional’ will be simplified to include anywhere outside of Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, so migrants can look at places like Queensland’s North coast and Toowoomba, New South Wales’ Northern Rivers, Central coast, and Hunter Valley, Geelong and the Grampians region in Victoria, and anywhere in South Australia, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory.

Closure of existing regional visas

The current permanent Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (subclass 187) visa and the State Nominated temporary regional visa (subclass 489) will be discontinued when the new regional visas come into effect. Existing visa holders and applications lodged before this date will not be affected.

For people considering regional options, this means that the current regional visa subclasses will be replaced by new regional visa subclasses. The major change proposed so far is that requirement to live in the region will increase from 2 to 3 years.

Longer stay for International Graduates

From 2021, International Students who complete their studies in regional Australia and continue to remain in regional Australia on their graduate visa will be able to apply for a further one-year post study work visa.

Regional Scholarships

New scholarships will be available for international and domestic students to study in regional areas, for higher education and vocational education qualifications.

GSM Points Test Changes

From 1 November 2019, the skilled migration points test will be adjusted to award additional points to applicants where their partner has competent English but cannot meet the other requirements for skilled partner points. Single applicants will not be disadvantaged as there will be other additional points available, however, there is no detail on how these points are to be gained.

SAF revenue down

The budget reported that the revenue from the Skilling Australians Fund levy is forecast to be $126 million less than originally forecast for the four years to 2022-23, due to lower than expected demand for employer sponsored visas. However, a number of large infrastructure projects were also announced in the budget which may well require employers to bring in more skilled workers from overseas.

People interested in applying for a RSMS visa or 489 visa should ensure these are lodged by the end of October to be eligible under the current rules.

Everyone else who is looking to apply for a visa should try to lodge before 1 July 2019 (if possible) to avoid the fee increases, or start making plans to cover these additional costs.

 

Regional Skilled Visas and New Points Test

New Subclass 491 Skilled Work Regional visa

Even though it will not come into effect until 16 November 2019 , the legislation for the new visa is now available. This is great news as it will allow people to really plan for the end of the year. There are still some gaps in the information (such as what the occupation list will look like) but here are the highlights.

There will be a new definition for what is a regional area in Australia and this will apply to all references to a regional area, including the points allocated for regional study in Australia. The area appears to be defined as all of Australia outside the metropolitan areas of Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth; though no postcodes are available as yet so we are not sure what a metropolitan area will mean.

Most of the requirements for the visa will be similar to the current subclass 489 visa (which will cease when this visa comes in). The applicant will still need to be nominated by a state or territory or sponsored by a family member living in a designated area as defined above. There will be an invitation to apply for the visa, the applicant has to be under 45 years old, have competent English, and meet the points test.

Changes to the points test

There are some exciting changes for all points-tested Skilled visa applications from 16 November 2019 . New points will be available as follows:

The visa will be valid for 5 years but have strict reporting and compliance conditions to ensure that the main applicant and all family members only live, work and study in a designated regional area.

After three years of holding the subclass 491 visa, you can apply for a Subclass 191 Permanent Resident (Skilled Regional) visa. You must have complied with all the conditions of your visa, and provide three years of tax assessment notices showing a taxable income above a certain level (the amount has not yet been announced).

Migration program planning levels

The Migration program is designed to achieve a range of economic and social outcomes. The program is set annually, with the total places available capped at a ceiling of 160,000 for 2019-20. The total program is broken down into the following streams:

Stream and Category 2019-2020
Skill stream  
Employer Sponsored 30,000
Skilled Independent 18,652
Regional 23,000
   Skilled Employer Sponsored 9,000
   Skilled Work Regional 14,000
State/Territory Nominated 24,968
Business Innovation & Investment program 6,862
Global Talent 5,000
Distinguished Talent 200
Skill Total 108,682
Family Stream  
Partner 39,799
Parent 7,371
Other Family 562
Family Total 47,732
Special Eligibility 236
Child (estimate; not subject to a ceiling) 3,350
Total 160,000

Program size and composition

The size and composition of the Migration program is set each year through the Australian Government’s Budget process. It is informed following broad public consultations with state and territory governments, business and community groups and the wider public. Community views, economic and labour force forecasts, international research, net overseas migration and economic and fiscal modelling are all taken into account when planning the program.

Skilled Occupation List Changes March 2019

On 11 March Immigration introduced a number of new occupation lists affecting General Skilled and Employer-sponsored migration. This update follows a review and consultation period with the Department of Jobs and Small Business, to ensure that ‘the entry of skilled foreign workers to Australia remains carefully calibrated to Australia’s needs’.

There is great news for the sciences, as a number of occupations in this area have been added to the Medium and Long Term Skills Shortage List (MLTSSL). This makes skilled independent migration possible for Life Scientists, Biotechnologists, Environmental Research Scientists, and Microbiologists.

In total, 36 occupations have been added, as follows:

The Short-Term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) has seen a number of changes, with 27 occupations removed; though most have gone to the Regional Occupation List (ROL).

Please note there are different occupation lists for Skilled Migration and Employer Sponsored migration – even though they have the same names. It is critical to ensure that you are looking at the correct occupation list for your chosen visa type.

New Temporary Sponsored Parent Visa

It has been announced on March the 4th that the new five-year sponsored parent visa, the Parent (Temporary) (870) visa, will be open for applications from 17 April 2019.

Who is eligible for the temporary Sponsored Parent visa?

To be eligible for the visa, a parent must be the biological, adoptive, or step-parent of the sponsor, who must be an Australian citizen, Australian permanent resident, or eligible New Zealand citizen. Unlike the permanent Parent visa options there is no Balance of Family test as part of the application process.

Sponsorship applications can be made from 17 April 2019 and only two parents per household can be sponsored for this visa at a time. Once the sponsorship application has been approved, a sponsored parent will be able to apply for the visa and it is anticipated that visa applications will be open from 1 July 2019.

Upon grant, the visa is valid for five years and will allow the parent to remain in Australia for the full period without departing. To re-apply for a further five-year visa the parent needs to depart Australia for a period of at least 90 days before they may a new application. A parent is only able to remain in Australia on the Parent (Temporary) (870) visa for a maximum of 10 years. It is important to note that this is a temporary visa and does not allow permanent residence in Australia.

How many Temporary Sponsored Parent visas are available?

The Government has announced a cap of 15,000 per year on the numbers of visas that will be granted.

The visa application charges are:

Government Fundraising or Money Grab? Millions Collected from Australian Businesses

A recent Freedom of Information (FOI) report, shared by the Migration Institute of Australia, implies a staggering $7 million dollars has potentially been taken by the Australian Government for Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) nomination applications that went nowhere.

The FOI report shows the number of TSS nominations that have been refused or withdrawn under a standard business sponsorship between 14 August 2018 and 31 December 2018, with a shocking 2324 failed applications over a 4-month period.

This money has been generated via the Skilling Australians Fund (SAF) levy, a fee payable per applicant, per year of nomination, with an amount based on the turnover of the company (under or over $10 million per annum). Payments into the SAF are intended to be used to fund apprenticeships and traineeships in the vocational education sector in order to “boost the number of people who choose and succeed in this pathway and help address skills shortages across Australia

The SAF – payable up-front and in full at the time of lodgement – is not refunded if the TSS Nomination application is refused or withdrawn. In fact, there is no legislative ability to even apply for a refund on this basis!

Representatives of the Migration Institute of Australia have been canvassing politicians on the subject of SAF payments and refunds – even going directly to Canberra to raise the issues – but there have been no reports on what has been discussed or decided.

It is surprising that business groups do not appear to be complaining about this money-raising exercise, as many of these applications would have been lodged by businesses themselves.

The moral of the story? It is crucial to ensure that your TSS Nomination application is accurate, compliant, and complete. Not only could your business miss out on skilled workers to meet your needs, you could also incur losses of thousands of dollars that cannot be recovered.