Are you down with the 457?

The Federal Government took all of those in the migration law sphere completely by surprise recently when it announced (on Facebook, because it’s hip, flexible, and innovative) that the Temporary Work (Skilled) visa subclass 457 (known by all as the “457 visa”) would be abolished.

It’s rare that policy announcements such as these come completely out of the blue, and particularly so when elements of the regulations changed immediately. So is this a radical revamp of skilled worker immigration, or merely a rebadging and tweaking of existing policy (can anyone other than dogs hear that whistling)?

The 457 visa will be replaced with the new (and snappily named) Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) Visa in March 2018. Until then the 457 will continue, albeit with some important changes effective immediately.

The occupations for which an applicant can be sponsored are new divided between two lists. The first list is called the Short-term Skilled Occupation List and the second is called the Medium and Long-term Strategic Skills List. The kids on the street call these the STSOL and the MLTSSL. For occupations on the STSOL the maximum term of a visa is now 2 years, and for those on the MLTSSL is 4 years.

There has also been a reduction of the occupations that are eligible. Some 216 occupations were cut including such vital roles as blacksmith, sail maker or deer farmer.

There were other changes announced to permanent employer sponsored skilled migration programmes such as the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme visa (subclass 187) visa. Here changes from July could include an International English Language Testing System(IELTS) (or equivalent test) score of 6 in each component, and new maximum age requirements. More stringent changes are intended to apply from March 2018 including minimum work experience of three years, extending from two to three years the period one must be a permanent resident before becoming a citizen, and strengthened requirements for employers to contribute to training.

It’s hard to think of a more complicated, regulation heavy area of law. It is also subject to frequent policy changes. Do the above changes make a substantial difference? The political announcements around the changes emphasise the “Australia first” aspect of the changes. These underplay the already existing protections in the 457 visa program – it is only available where employers are able to show that they are unable to find an Australian to do the job.

The reduction of the occupations list is of exaggerated importance also. The list was already subject to regular review, and the occupations cut in the recent announcements are primarily those that were not used.

The changes announced for March 2018 to the permanent skilled migration programmes are probably show more materially different changes, as to whether or not they are more effective, or more desirable we suppose we shall have to wait and see.

We know that local businesses use the 457 visa and related programmes. Probably the biggest take away from the latest announcements is to emphasise just how complicated this area of law is. It’s a good opportunity to remind everyone that only a migration agent registered with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (commonly called OMARA) can legally give migration assistance. Registered agents can be found using the search tool on the OMARA website. Such agents are handy for both employees and employers and as with all types of legal advice, it’s best to seek the advice early so you can plan ahead.

For the record, we lean to the conclusion that the changes have a little more to do with the government’s current political position than any kind of sweeping migration law reform.