SUMMARY

September has seen substantial changes in the Immigration landscape though these primarily occurred outside the Employer Sponsored visa categories.

The major events which will affect business include the release of a report recommending changes to the 457 programme and announcements of reviews of the Skilled Migration programme and another review of visa charges, fees, and taxes imposed by the Department.

The Federal Court’s rejection of an application to overturn the Ministerial Direction on offshore workers is good news for employers in the oil and gas sector which will allow foreign national staff to continue work on 457 and 400 visas.

REPORT ‘ROBUST NEW FOUNDATIONS’ BY INDEPENDENT REVIEW PANEL ON 457 VISA PROGRAMME

The Robust New Foundations report was commissioned early in 2014 to examine the integrity of the 457 visa programme and recommend changes to government. The report was released to the public in early September. The report made 22 primary recommendations and multiple sub-recommendations on how to improve the operation of the 457 programme and prevent inappropriate use.

The recommendations maintain most aspects of the programme but with a number of incremental changes to be made to elements of the system such as Market Salary Rates, Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold, and increasing duration of sponsorships,

Major recommendations include scrapping Labour Market Testing, introducing a tripartite ministerial council to review and refine the Skilled Occupation List, and replacement of the Training Benchmarks with a flat fee structure, and creating a risk based approach to allow for streamlining of applications.

REVIEW OF SKILLED MIGRATION & 400 VISA SERIES

The release of the Robust New Foundations report was swiftly followed by the announcement of a broad review of the Skilled Migration programme and 400 Temporary Activity visa series. The 400 series includes short and long term work visas, graduate visas, as well as visas covering research, entertainment and a number of other activities.

The review is intended to secure the place of the Skilled Migration Programme in Australia for the next 20 years and is tasked with considering the most fundamental aspects of Skilled Migration.

REVIEW OF FEES, CHARGES & TAXES

The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, has announced a review of the current fees, charges and taxes by the Department of Immigration. The Minister announced that the goal is to ensure that the visa system is ‘cost neutral’. In a speech shortly after announcing the review the Minister made comments suggesting that visa charges are inappropriately high and not commensurate with similar visa types in other countries. However the impact on visa charges will not be known until after the report is released.

It is widely considered across the migration industry and among users of the visa programmes that costs should be reduced substantially and that the recent addition of further charges such as the Subsequent Temporary Visa Application Charge be removed.

VALIDITY OF TEMPORARY OFFSHORE WORK VISAS UPHELD

A challenge by the Maritime Union in the Federal Court to overturn the Ministerial Direction enabling offshore workers to work on offshore facilities while holding subclass 457 or 400 visas has failed. The Ministerial Direction was made in July 2014 and allowed offshore workers on fixed structures (e.g., oil platforms) to conduct work activities while holding a 457 or 400 visa.

The Direction was necessary after the Senate earlier disallowed regulations prescribing the 457 and 400 for workers in these circumstances leaving no visa available for offshore work.

REPORTS SHOW CONTINUING REDUCTION IN 457 VISA PROGRAMME

The Department’s quarterly report on 457 visas ending 30 June 2014 shows that 457 visa applications remains in decline. The total number of grants for the 2013-2014 year was 49,150 down 39.9% compared to the previous year.

457 numbers declined across all states with the greatest change in Queensland and WA which were down 44.9% and 48.3% respectively. The industries most affected were Accommodation and Food Services, Agriculture and Fishing, Construction, Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services, Manufacturing, Mining, Retail, and Wholesale which fell between 44 and 53.9%.

The top 3 occupations remained the same as the previous year: Cooks (5.2%), Café or Restaurant Managers (4.0%) and Developer Programmers (3.7%).

Despite the decrease across the 457 programme the number of 457 visa holders who were granted Permanent Residence increased by 11.7% to 44,990.

DISALLOWANCE MOTION OVERTURNS CLOSURE OF FAMILY AND CARER VISAS

The Senate has disallowed the closure of the non-contributory parent and carer visa categories. The closure of the programme meant that no options remained for carers, parents who could not afford the contributory pathway, or relatives stranded overseas without family.

These visa classes have now reopened and the Department has announced that applications will be accepted for at least the next six months. However prospective applicants must be advised that extended waiting periods are likely and that programme numbers are unlikely to increase in the short term.

Reports suggest the expected waiting time for the visas is:

  • Non-contributory Parent visas: 25 years
  • Remaining Relative: 50+ years
  • Carer visas: 4.5 years

ADDITIONAL IMMIGRATION UPDATES

A number of announcements were made throughout September including:

  • Introduction of a 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup visa valid for Australia and New Zealand
  • Spain & Portugal added to Work and Holiday visa programme
  • Changes to information sharing arrangements between Australia, the US, NZ, and Philippines for security purposes