Skills shortage a headache? New visa rules may help

by 13 Mar 2012

The immigration department has announced a new “fast-tracked” system for employer-sponsored skilled workers to secure permanent visas. The new system aims to take the sting out of the current complex system and effectively make it easier for employers to entice skilled migrants to stay.

Immigration and Citizenship Minister Chris Bowen said the measures will simplify the process for businesses looking to use the permanent employer-sponsored visa program. The new reforms will be rolled out by 1 July 2012, and key changes include:

  • The pathway to permanent residence for eligible Temporary Business (Long Stay) subclass 457 visa holders will be streamlined and simplified
  • The upper age limit will be changed to ‘less than 50 years’, rather than ‘less than 45 years’
  • Instead of applying under the current ‘exceptional circumstance model’ with regards to age, skills and English language ability, ‘exemption categories’ will regulate any exceptions.
  • A new consolidated sponsored occupation list will replace the 457 occupation list, see: the Employer Nomination Skilled Occupation List (ENSOL) and the State and Territory Sponsored Occupation List (StatSOL)
  • The new visa structure will replace the six employer-sponsored visa classes and subclasses with two new visas:
  1. Employer Nomination (Class EN) Employer Nomination Scheme (subclass 186)
  2. Regional Employer Nomination (Class RN) Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (subclass 187).
  • Within each of these visa subclasses there will be three streams:
    1. The Temporary Residence Transition stream is for subclass 457 visa holders who have worked for their employer for at least the last two years and the employer wants to offer them a permanent position in that same occupation.
  • The Direct Entry stream is for applicants who are untested in the Australian labour market and have not held a subclass 457 for at least the last two years or are applying directly from outside Australia.
  • The Agreement stream is for applicants who are being sponsored by an employer through a highly scrutinised and negotiated labour agreement or regional migration agreement.
  • An employer or visa applicant will need to meet the requirements of the particular stream.

Rio Tinto Australia chief executive Sam Walsh said skilled labour shortages remains ‘one of the greatest challenges’ and having an efficient and flexible skilled migration program is one solution.  “More broadly we need to ensure we're an attractive proposition for job seekers,” Walsh added.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox welcomed the move, and said he believes the changes should help alleviate the tight labour market. “Notwithstanding the slow growth seen in employment over the past year, businesses across the economy are still experiencing skill shortages in key occupations, especially those in demand by the resources sector such as in engineering and the skilled trades,” Willox said in a statement. He added that removing language testing for existing 457 visa holders who apply for residency and increasing the upper age limit to 50 for permanent applications were "sensible" moves.


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