During the COVID-19 pandemic, employers should be aware of the Australian Government's current travel advices, including travel bans, restrictions on entry and self-isolation guidelines, which are rapidly evolving.

This week, the Australian government announced two key changes to address critical skill shortages and to strengthen labour market testing for employer sponsored visas.

On 2 September 2020, the Hon Alan Tudge MP, Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, released a joint media release with the Hon Michaelia Cash announcing a new priority skills list and strengthening labour market testing.

Priority migration skilled occupation list

The new Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List ('PMSOL') contains 17 occupations that the Australian government has prioritised as filling critical skill shortages required to support Australia's economic recovery from COVID-19.

These occupations are:

  • Chief Executive or Managing Director
  • Construction Project Manager
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • General Practitioner
  • Resident Medical Officer
  • Psychiatrist
  • Medical Practitioner not elsewhere classified
  • Midwife
  • Registered Nurse (Aged Care)
  • Registered Nurse (Critical Care and Emergency)
  • Registered Nurse (Medical)
  • Registered Nurse (Mental Health)
  • Registered Nurse (Perioperative)
  • Developer Programmer
  • Software Engineer
  • Maintenance Planner

Employers needing skilled workers in one of these occupations will benefit in two key ways:

Travel exemptions

Australia's borders are currently closed to all persons who are not Australian citizens, permanent residents, resident New Zealand citizens or immediate family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents. All other persons can only enter Australia if they fit within an exemption category, or if the Australian Border Force (ABF) Commissioner grants an exemption, which are only available on limited grounds on a case by case discretionary basis.

This process has led to extreme uncertainty for businesses in being able to plan for foreign workers entering Australia.

There is now a specific exemption available to those with occupations on the PMSOL. Visa applicants and visa holders can apply for an exemption to the travel ban if they are sponsored by an employer to work in Australia in an occupation on the PMSOL.

Priority processing

In the current environment, processing of visa applications has slowed. The Department of Home Affairs, the department responsible for the management of Australia's visa programme, has advised of significant disruption to its services as a result of COVID-19.

The Hon Alan Tudge has announced that nominations and visa applications for occupations on the PMSOL will now receive priority processing for all employer sponsored visas:

  • Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa (subclass 482)
  • Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa (subclass 494)
  • Employer Nomination Scheme(ENS) visa (subclass 186)
  • Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) visa (subclass 187)

Labour market testing requirements

Labour Market Testing (LMT) or advertising of the proposed sponsored position is required for a number of employer sponsored visas, including the Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa (subclass 482) and the Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa (subclass 494). Specific advertising requirements are mandatory unless the position falls under an exemption (where alternative evidence is acceptable in select, prescribed circumstances) or an international trade obligation applies.

Currently, employers are required to publish at least two advertisements for 28 days:

  • On a national recruitment website;
  • In national print media;
  • On national radio; or
  • If a sponsor is accredited – on the companies’ website.
  • For Nomination applications under the above visa programs lodged from 1 October 2020, employers must take the additional step of advertising the proposed position on the Australian government's JobActive website.

This additional measure is designed to further ensure that Australian citizens and permanent residents are given opportunities to fill vacant positions before a foreign worker is sponsored.