Visa and Citizenship Changes

It has been an extraordinary two weeks in Australian migration and citizenship law, with a number of immediate and upcoming changes flagged by the Minister of Immigration and Border Protection through news releases. I am sure you have heard, or read, that 457 visas are being ‘abolished’, or ‘rebranded’, with some key tweaks along the way. Australian citizenship requirements were also in the media. As with all changes, there will be a period of adjustment and learning. The most significant change to the 457 visa program occurred without warning. This is the change to the occupational lists. As a flow-on from this change, permanent residence employer sponsored visas and skilled migration visas are also impacted.

Employer Sponsored Temporary and Permanent Residence Visa Changes

Effective as of 19 April 2017, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has introduced a revised list of occupations for the Subclass 457 visa program and permanent residence skilled visas such as the Employer Nomination Scheme (‘Subclass 186’) and Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (‘Subclass 187’) visas. There are now two lists that apply. The Medium and Long-Term Strategic Skills List MLTSSL) will allow sponsorship for up to four years. Permanent residence pathways are available from this list. Further information will be provided below. The Short-Term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) will lead to a maximum two year 457 visa, with the option of one two year extension. There is no pathway to permanent residence for a Subclass 186 or Subclass 187 visa.

A number of other occupations have been impacted by caveats, including region and occupational specific. A considerable number of occupations have been removed. All undecided 457 visa applications as at 19 April 2017 will be reviewed by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. If the nominated occupation has been removed, applicants will be advised and given the opportunity to withdraw the application and access a refund. We would strongly recommend that consideration be given to whether an alternative occupation or visa pathway exists before advising the Department of Immigration to withdraw the application or the application is refused. Any application that is not withdrawn will be refused.

The occupational lists will be reviewed periodically, at least every six months.

Upcoming Changes to 457 Visas

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has flagged the following further changes from 1 July 2017:

  • There will be possible further adjustments to the eligible occupation lists from 1 July 2017.
  • There will be an expansion to the types of applications that will require a mandatory skill assessment
  • There will be minor changes to the training benchmarks
  • Police clearances will be required from countries a visa applicant has lived in for 12 months or more in the last 10 years
  • The English language salary exemption ($96,400.00) will be removed.
  • Before 31 December 2017, collection of TFN for 457 visa holders for ATO data matching and publication of sanction sponsors.

From March 2018, the 457 visa will be replaced by the Temporary Skilled Shortage visa.  Further details  as to how this will work will come in due course.

Changes to Subclass 186/187 visas

The change in occupation lists will impact 186 and 187 visa applications from March 2018. However, the Prime Minister and Minister for Immigration has advised that existing 457 visa holders (as of 18 April 2017) will still be able to apply for a permanent visa and will not be affected by the change in occupations.  We wait to see how this will work.

From July 2017, the following requirements will apply:

  • Primary applicants will need to be less than 45 years of age, unless applying through the TRTS. We are yet to be advised if there will be any age-related exemptions
  • All primary visa applicants will need to have ‘Competent English’ which is, for example, an IELTS of 6.0 or higher on each of the four testing bands.
  • Require a commitment to employment for a minimum of three years, currently the commitment is for two years.

From March 2018, Subclass 186/187 nominations will include an assessment of the market salary rate for the occupation and, for the Subclass 187 visa, the addition of a minimum salary level (the TSMIT, which is currently $53,900.00). Other proposed changes include:

  • Requiring that the applicant has at least three years minimum work experience
  • The addition of a contribution to a training fund.

If you are considering 457 visa or permanent residence visa pathways and have not yet lodged an application, and you would like a review of your options, we are happy to provide you with tailored advice. Please contact us directly to discuss your circumstances.

Changes to Skilled Visas

The skilled migration program is also impacted by the recent changes in the occupation lists, and removal of occupations. Skill assessment agencies and state and territory Governments have been very busy trying to identify options for applications that are currently in train and impacted by the removal of occupations.

Citizenship Changes

In a busy week of employer sponsored visas, the Minister of Immigration and Border Protection also announced significant changes to Australian Citizenship requirements. The Government has also advised that the new Citizenship legislation for these reforms will not be introduced immediately but will be introduced by the end of 2017, yet the changes will apply to all those applications lodged from 20 April 2017. Does this mean that applications will be held-over until, or if, the changes are passed by both houses of Parliament? At this stage, the Department of Immigration is not forthcoming about how they plan to handle these applications but we will be sure to let our clients know, once further information is made available.

The package of citizenship reforms includes the following:

  • Increase in general residence requirement to a minimum of four years permanent residence immediately prior to application for citizenship
  • Need to demonstrate competent English prior to sitting the citizenship test
  • Strengthening the Australian values statement  to include reference to allegiance to Australia and require applicants to make an undertaking to integrate into and contribute to the Australian community
  • Strengthen the test for Australian citizenship with the addition of new test questions about Australian values, privileges and responsibilities of Australian citizenship
  • Introducing a requirement for applicants to demonstrate their integration into the Australian community by providing documentation to the effect that people who can work are working, or are actively looking for work or seeking to educate themselves; that people are contributing to the community by being actively involved in community or voluntary organisations; that people are properly paying their taxes and ensuring their children are being educated and  criminal records and adherence to social security laws will also be relevant
  • Strengthening the Pledge of commitment in the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 to refer to allegiance to Australia and extending the requirement for individuals over 16 years of age to make the Pledge of commitment to all streams of citizenship by application, including citizenship by descent, adoption and resumption.

If you would like tailored advice on Australian visa changes or Australian citizenship changes, please do not hesitate to contact us.