More than a year after effectively closing Australia off from the rest of the world, state and federal governments, industry groups and employers are all now recognising that Australia has critical skill gaps in many areas. There is great concern that failure to address skills shortages will have a detrimental impact on the future growth of the economy coming out of Covid. In a recent session hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia CEDA), an independent think tank, the Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke, acknowledged that migration will be critical for Australia’s future economic recovery.
In what has become an increasingly scarce labour market many persons who were in Australia on 457 or 482 visas at the time the borders were closed who were able to weather the initial economic downturn and remain in Australia, are now discovering that they are being rewarded for their perseverance as employers compete with each other for their services. As a result, an increasing number of employees are seeking advice on how to transfer their visas across to new employers.
While it is possible to do this, it is most important to ensure that all of the necessary steps are complied with, as failure to do so might result in a visa breach or worse still, not having proper legal status.
One benefit of the process is that it involves the transfer of the sponsorship for the unexpired term of the individuals’ visa, and therefore, a new visa application is not required. Obviously however, if the employee only has a short period of time left on the visa, a fresh application would make sense.
For those persons thinking about the possibility of a transfer, the following points should first be thought about:
Up until the advent of the Covid pandemic, the scale of global international migration had been increasing to the point where it was estimated to be almost 272 million globally with nearly two thirds being labour migrants. While this is a small percentage ( 3.5%) of the worlds total population, they are large figures nevertheless.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), it is widely recognised that the scale and pace of international migration is notoriously difficult to predict with precision because it is closely connected to acute events such as severe instability, economic crisis or conflict – or a global pandemic.
It is also known from long-term data that international migration is not uniform across the world, but is shaped by economic, geographic, demographic and other factors resulting in distinct migration patterns, such as migration ‘corridors’ developed over many years. These corridors tend to extend from developing countries to larger economies.
According to data from IOM, large numbers of countries have introduced travel restrictions throughout the course of this year, ranging from the need to produce different forms of documentation or more enhanced medical testing requirements or, in the case of Australia, complete closure of borders to everyone except Australian citizens, permanent residents, resident New Zealand citizens, or immediate family members.
Clearly, the impact on the Australian economy of restricting foreign worker and business related travel is significant.
As Australia’s Covid numbers come down, we must assume that our representatives in Canberra are in a race to deliver solutions which will result in safe, controlled entry. Any such plans would need to be introduced gradually in order to be satisfied that they are workable and can be scaled. For economic reasons, we would assume that the business sector will be the first to be opened up to travel, with priority going to business/industries deemed to be of most importance to the nation and our economic well being generally.
If Australia can devise a manageable travel policy, and continue to maintain a largely Covid free environment, there may be considerable medium to long-term upside for the country developing into one of the ‘migration corridors’ referred to above as it will be able to market itself as an entirely safe and reliable country from which to conduct business. – a feat that other countries with hard borders will find hard to do.
The closure of Australia’s borders in March this year with virtually no prior notice, resulted in our island nation being cut off from the rest of the world with an almost brutal efficiency.
For many businesses the sudden border closure had a significant impact on their ability to access highly skilled labour, not readily available within the Australian labour market, but critical to their operations. Partly in recognition of this, a Priority Migration Skilled Occupation list was recently published on the Department of Home Affairs website. Occupations on this list will receive priority processing in respect of employer sponsored visa programs. However, as there are only 17 occupations listed, of which 12 are medical related, this announcement, whilst welcomed by some businesses, is of no use to the majority.
A visa subcategory designed exclusively for short term highly specialised business needs, and well utilised by businesses up until the advent of Covid 19, is the Subclass 400 Temporary Work (Short Stay Specialist) Visa. Designed primarily for stays of up to 3 months, it is possible to obtain a grant for up to 6 months if a strong business case is demonstrated. Providing the qualifying criteria can be demonstrated to exist, processing of applications has always been relatively straightforward and visas relatively quickly approved. As a result, they were very popular for businesses seeking quick access to persons with highly specialised skills, knowledge or experience. Historically, about a thousand of these visas were approved each week from 2014 onwards.
As mentioned earlier, the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation list only refers to 17 occupations, 12 of which are medical related. Not only does it provide very limited relief, but also importantly, it only applies to employer nomination and visa applications, and therefore does not offer any comfort to employers wishing to bring workers in for short periods of time on the subclass 400 visa.
The ongoing inability to address critical labour shortages is obviously becoming a major issue for many businesses in Australia. While the economy is in a downturn it is possible that this issue is somewhat repressed, however as things start to improve, these issues may prove to be stumbling block for a quick recovery unless quickly addressed.
As with nature, once the environment changes those businesses most likely to succeed will respond accordingly to meet those changes. For businesses that can no longer get ready access to the skills base they need, the obvious answer is a greater reliance on technology, and we are now seeing a move to increased reliance on remote working solutions where the key worker remains in their home country and provides the necessary skills online. An issue for future consideration by social scientists will be to what extent the Covid crisis will be seen to have accelerated the move to a situation where business needs are met largely by remote providers, with the need to quickly relocate to the source of the work either eliminated or drastically reduced to those situations where an actual physical presence is required – e.g. if a piece of equipment needs to be commissioned.
Not only does increased reliance on remote solutions make good economic sense in direct terms by dramatically reducing relocation and repatriation costs, it also mean that significant home office savings are likely to be achieved by eliminating the need to have people engaged in navigating their way around complex migration rules, travel restrictions and so on. The ramifications of this emerging trend for the global mobility industry generally are significant.
Please join us for this essential event for businesses that sponsor overseas workers.
Providing important information about the impact on TSS visas, implications of reduced hours and employee nomination considerations.
Please join our speakers David Stratton and Ella Jia for insights on your sponsorship obligations in the current climate.
Register today here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_wqTxkOysSruEkL-Dj6djzw
Benefits of becoming an Accredited Sponsor
How to become an Accredited Sponsor
A sponsor can apply to become an "Accredited Sponsor" as part of their application to become an approved Standard Business Sponsor (SBS) or to renew their sponsorship. There is no additional charge to become accredited. If you apply at the time of the renewal or apply separately when eligible during the validity of the SBS, the ordinary sponsorship application charge of $420 is applicable.
To qualify for accreditation, the additional requirements of following 4 categories should be met.
We are focusing on the key requirements on categories 3 and 4 as they are the most common ones that are applicable.
Low volume usage and high percentage of Australian workers
High volume usage and medium percentage of Australian workers
We are able to assess you eligibility to determine whether you are able to apply to become an Accredited Sponsor.
Arguably, Temporary Skill Visa holders in Australia at the time the COVID -19 pandemic struck have felt the impact more so than any other group of people within the Immigration diaspora.
According to government statistics, at the time the pandemic first hit, there were over 2 million people in Australia on a temporary visa of one type or another, of which about 140,000 were Temporary Skill Visa holders on either two or four year work visas. As business activity contracted, many of these individuals were either stood down, put on amended contracts with reduced benefits, or worse, terminated.
The government has made it clear that its policy is that temporary visa holders who are unable to support themselves are strongly encouraged to return home; however in many cases this is not possible due in some instances to the fear of returning to countries with higher rates of infection, or difficulties associated with travel generally.
Most temporary visa holders who are out of work have no ‘safety net’ to fall back on in the form of Job keeper or Job seeker payments if they lose their job.
The government responded to the problem by making changes to visa arrangements. However, these are very broad-based, and in reality would have little or no significant benefit to affected workers. For example, the government has agreed to allow most temporary visa holders with work rights to access their Australian superannuation to help support themselves during the crisis. While this is a positive step, the maximum permitted withdrawal is $10,000 - which represents limited financial relief at best.
Other changes which have been announced include that those persons who have been stood down, but not laid off, will be able to work reduced hours without being in breach of their visa condition. Also, if someone who is on a four-year work visa is laid off and returns to their home country and is re-employed after the pandemic, the time already spent in Australia will count towards their permanent residence skilled work experience requirements.
If a visa holder has no option but to return home, employers need to be aware of the fact that under the terms of their Sponsorship Agreement with the government they have an obligation to pay travel costs of the sponsored person (and family members) to the country that the person holds a passport for, and will travel to. This request must be made in writing to the employer; failure by the employer to comply could result in a finding that there has been a breach of the Sponsorship Agreement, with the possibility of significant penalties being levied. The message is that in these difficult times employers and employees should try and work together constructively to reach a solution which is fair and equitable for all concerned.
According to the Australian Financial Review on Monday 8 June, consideration is being given to allowing skilled workers to travel to Australia sooner than broader tourism starts. Other people who might also be eligible may include wealthy individuals and international students.
These revelations followed a meeting of Federal and State medical officers on Monday when further easing of restrictions was the subject of discussion. Travel would be by private means and charter services, and travellers would need to agree to be subject to mandatory quarantine upon arrival in Australia, meaning that short term stays will not be viable for some time to come.
As skilled workers play an important role in the Australian economy this will be welcome news to many Australian businesses, however before making any final decisions they will need to factor into their business plans what is likely to be the very high cost associated with relocation of necessary staff into Australia.
The Department of Home Affairs has included the COVID-19 pandemic event in the Australian Government endorsed event under the 408 Temporary Activity visa by virtue of a legislative instrument on 3 April 2020 which relates to persons who are:
- was the holder of a temporary visa that ceased to be in effect not more than 28 days before the application for the 408 visa; and
The Department in its explanatory statement explained that the purpose of this new event is to implement a measure to respond to critical workforce shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to areas including, but not limited to, agriculture, aged care and public health.
It is designed to allow temporary visa holders who are engaged in, or have the relevant skills, to undertake critical work relating to supply of essential goods and services, provided the applicant falls within the class of persons specified above.
Please contact us for further information/advice if you think you might be eligible to apply for the 408 visa.
1. Working holiday makers
If you have any queries regarding the above or otherwise, please contact us for further advice.
The Department of Home Affairs has on the weekend announced concessions relevant to visa holders currently in Australia as follows:
Visa holders stood down
Visa holders laid off
If you have any queries, or require any advice, please contact us.