AUSTRALIA – Major Visa Program Overhaul

December 27, 2023

Australia’s immigration policies are undergoing a paradigm shift marked by recent changes aimed at enhancing flexibility and responsiveness. From the removal of limitations on short-term 482 visa applications to a comprehensive overhaul of the visa program, the Australian government is actively shaping migration pathways to align with economic needs.

On December 11, 2023, an announcement was made by Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil on a comprehensive visa program overhaul which brings forth eagerly awaited reforms. We have outlined these in brief below:

Creation of new Skills in Demand visa 

Over the course of 2024, Australia will phase out the current 482 visa and will introduce a ‘Skills in Demand’ visa which will have a three-tiered approach to temporary skilled migration (three pathways or streams) and will be valid for a period of four years upon grant.

  1. Specialist Skills Pathway: This is for applicants with a salary of $135,000 or more, and will have highest priority, with a target of seven days processing. Almost all occupations can apply, except trade workers, machinery operators, skilled laborers and drivers. There will be a limitation of 3,000 places per year for this cohort. 
  2. Core Skills Pathway: This pathway is for applicants with salary between $70,000 and $135,000 with an occupation on a new ‘Core Skills Occupation List’. The authorities are aiming for a 21-day processing timeframe. Trades workers etc. are expected to fall into this cohort. 
  3. Essential Skills Pathway: This pathway is restricted to aged- and disability-care related workers whose salary is under $70,000. A 21-day processing time frame is expected to apply.

The salary thresholds for each of the three pathways will be indexed annually to average weekly ordinary time earnings.

Another feature of this new visa will be that visa holders will have greater mobility. For example, if one is made redundant or ceases employment, then the visa holder will have 180 days to find another sponsor and can continue working during this period.

To facilitate job-switching and greater oversight of employers, the government will develop a public register of businesses that are approved to sponsor temporary migrants.

The government will also explore a model whereby the Skilling Australia Fund levies paid by employers are incurred in smaller amounts at regular intervals rather than upfront.

LMT (labour market testing) to be streamlined

In a significant move to enhance the efficiency of the immigration process and to respond to evolving workforce needs, the government has announced a series of changes to labour market testing (LMT) which will increase the advertising validity period from 4 to 6 months.

LMT will eventually be phased out, as Jobs and Skills Australia will be tasked with capturing data on skills shortages and updating the Core Skills Occupation List on a regular basis.

Revamping general skilled migration program

In a strategic move aimed at fostering long-term prosperity, the government is set to reshape Australia’s permanent skilled migration framework. Two key initiatives stand out: 1) The exploration of a reformed Points Test, and 2) the introduction of a new Talent and Innovation visa targeting migrants capable of catalysing growth in critical national sectors.

Enhancing integrity and quality in international education

The government is set to implement a series of measures aimed at uplifting standards for both international students and education providers.

Key initiatives include the imposition of higher English-language requirements for international students and graduates.

A notable AUD 19 million investment in the Home Affairs student visa integrity unit underscores the commitment to stringent oversight, ensuring that the system remains robust and responsive to potential risks.

Recognizing the challenges posed by “visa hopping,”—a practice that undermines system integrity and perpetuates “permanent temporariness,”—new restrictions will be introduced. These restrictions aim to streamline the visa system, discouraging misuse and promoting a more stable environment for international students.

Additionally, Temporary Graduate visa settings will be strengthened and simplified, providing a clearer pathway for international students to gain valuable post-graduate experience in Australia.

Safeguarding work visas: Combating exploitation and strengthening visa system integrity

To address the critical issues of worker exploitation and misuse of the visa system, the government is set to introduce a comprehensive set of legislation, powers, penalties, and policies aimed at bolstering protections for workers and upholding the integrity of the visa system.

Key initiatives include the establishment of a new public register of employer sponsors, designed to enhance transparency, integrity, and support the mobility of migrant workers. This register will furnish essential information such as the names of approved sponsors, the number of temporary skilled workers they employ, and the specific nominated occupations. There will also be a change of law to provide safeguards for visa holders notifying of exploitation.

Strategic migration planning: Matching skills with needs

The government is embarking on a strategic, evidence-based approach to migration planning, aiming to align skills with demand and foster collaboration with states and territories. This includes a shift towards longer-term migration planning, facilitating better management of intake, and fostering closer collaboration with States and Territories.

To define Australia’s skills needs, a formal role for Jobs and Skills Australia will be established, utilizing evidence and insights from tripartite mechanisms involving the government, business, and unions. This collaboration aims to ensure that skills development aligns closely with the demands of the Australian job market.

Recognizing the importance of skills recognition, the government will enhance the approach to skills assessment, unlocking the full potential of migrant contributions to the workforce. Additionally, an expanded outreach program will be launched, improving accessibility to the migration system and providing valuable support to those navigating the process.

Empowering Regional Australia: Tailoring regional visas and Working Holiday Maker Program

The government is taking strategic steps to bolster regional Australia through targeted adjustments to regional visa settings and the Working Holiday Maker program.

One key measure involves designating regional Australia as the highest processing priority for visas, a change implemented shortly after announcement. This prioritization aims to streamline the migration process, facilitating the efficient entry of skilled workers into regional areas where their contributions are needed most.

By tailoring these programs to the unique needs of regional communities, the government seeks to drive sustainable growth, address skills gaps, and foster a positive and supportive environment for both migrants and local workers in regional Australia. These initiatives underscore a commitment to regional development and a responsible approach to the management of migrant labour in these vital areas.

Strengthening Indo-Pacific connections: Enhanced mobility and engagement

Australia is adopting a fresh approach to deepen people-to-people ties in the Indo-Pacific region. Key initiatives include a direct pathway to citizenship for New Zealanders, increased mobility partnerships with Pacific Island and Southeast Asian nations, and special visa arrangements to fortify bilateral relationships.

Notable actions already taken include the establishment of a direct pathway to Australian citizenship for eligible New Zealanders, underscoring the strong ties between the two nations. The Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme has also undergone reforms, complemented by the introduction of a new Pacific Engagement Visa to facilitate increased mobility from the Pacific region.

Furthermore, a special visa arrangement has been instituted for citizens of Tuvalu under the Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union bilateral treaty. These measures collectively reflect Australia’s commitment to fostering closer connections, facilitating mobility, and nurturing collaborative relationships within the Indo-Pacific community.

Streamlining migration: Enhancing user experience for migrants and employers

The government is embarking on a comprehensive simplification agenda to improve the migration system’s efficiency. This initiative includes reducing visa classes, streamlining settings, and enhancing overall user-friendliness.

Already underway, the government has invested in reducing visa backlogs and modernizing the migration system to provide a smoother experience for migrants and employers. To further streamline the system, unnecessary and duplicate visas will be abolished, making the process more straightforward.

Importantly, simplification is not just a short-term goal, but a key objective embedded in the Migration Strategy. This commitment ensures ongoing efforts to create a more accessible and efficient migration system, enhancing the experience for both migrants and employers.

Immigration Insight

As Australia undergoes these transformative changes in its migration policies, stakeholders must stay abreast of developments to navigate the evolving landscape successfully. Whether prospective migrants, employers, or migration agents, adapting to these changes ensures a smoother and more efficient migration process aligned with the nation’s evolving needs.

This immigration update is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for legal or scenario-specific advice. Furthermore, it is important to note that immigration announcements are subject to sudden and unexpected changes. Readers are encouraged to reach out to Newland Chase for any case or company-specific assessments.