Reforms to the employer sponsored visa categories – what will these mean for your business?

by 26 Mar 2012

Reforms to the employer sponsored visa categories – what will these mean for your business?

Cherie Wright, Senior Associate and Accredited Immigration Law Specialist, Fragomen

On 9 March 2012 the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship announced changes to the Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) and Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) to take effect from 1 July 2012.

These reforms follow an extensive review by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) to examine the effectiveness of the employer sponsored categories and is one of the final components of a general review of the Skilled Migration category which commenced in 2010.

DIAC has indicated that a key objective of the amendments to the employer sponsored categories has been a desire to streamline the transition of 457 visa holders to permanent residence.   The 457 visa is the most commonly held temporary skilled visa and in 2010-11, accounted for 75% of all onshore employer sponsored visa applications.  Whether these reforms will achieve this objective is yet to be seen.

What are the reforms?

The major reforms that have been announced include:

  • a requirement for nominating employers under the ENS and RSMS programs to demonstrate that the market rate of salary will be paid for the nominated position.
  • a requirement for nominating employers under the ENS program to meet training benchmarks equivalent to those for the 457 visa program
  • an increase in the age threshold for ENS and RSMS visa applicants from 45 to under 50 years.
  • the replacement of the current subjective ‘exceptional circumstances’ waiver for age with defined exceptions for certain occupations (yet to be announced)where the typical profile is older due to the ‘specialised and technical nature of their work’ and for certain long-term 457 visa holders.
  • an increase in the English language requirement for ENS and RSMS visas to IELTS level 6 in each band for applicants who have not held a 457 visa for at least two years.
  • replacement of the exceptional circumstances waiver for English with defined exceptions for certain occupations (yet to be announced)and for native English speakers holding passports from the UK, the US, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand.
  • the introduction of a single consolidated list of occupations for ENS and 457 visas and the inclusion of all ANZSCO skill level 1-3 occupations for RSMS applications.

How will these reforms affect your employees?

Whilst initiatives such as the increase of the age threshold and introduction of a consolidated occupation list are welcomed, much uncertainty remains regarding the age and English exemption categories and to the nature of occupations the Minister will likely deem to be ‘exempt’ for this purpose.

As a result of this, the biggest impact will likely be felt by those applicants aged 50 years and above and/or who do not have ‘vocational’ English (IELTS 5.0 in each band). If you have employees who are considering making an ENS or RSMS application you  may wish to communicate that changes will be coming into effect from 1 July 2012 so that the business and the employees can consider making an application sooner rather than later.

Whilst DIAC has published general information regarding the reforms on its website, further guidance will not be available until the specific regulations have been released.



Cherie Wright


Senior Associate and Accredited Immigration Law Specialist

+61 2 8224 8572  

Other topics:

  • Centre for International Employment and Migration (CENTIEM) – a Fragomen initiative and business unit within Fragomen Australia