457 visa abolition keeps employers and immigration lawyers busy

The abolition of the 457 visa scheme by the Turnbull government has left employers and immigration lawyers with quite some work to do.

On 18 April 2017, the Federal Government abolished the 457 visa programme in favour of a new Temporary Skills Shortage visa scheme. The new visa comes in two variants, a Short-Term stream (2 years) and a Medium-Term stream (4 years).

Among the many changes, the new Temporary Skills Shortage visa:

  • reduces the types of occupations that qualify;
  • requires applicants to have at least 2 years work experience;
  • specifies a minimum salary; and
  • introduces a labour market eligibility test.

Short-Term stream visa holders will no longer qualify for permanent residence under normal conditions and can only renew their work permit once. After that, they will need to leave the country and reapply.

The scrapping of the 457 visa has made life harder for employers and some employees
Although some claim window dressing, the Turnbull Government has introduced a number of new restrictions with its replacement of the 457 visa programme.

New and more rigorous conditions also attach to the more permanent pathways, with some occupations being excluded from the permanent route entirely and new age limit of 45 years being imposed.

Businesses will have to keep these changes in mind when recruiting from overseas and may need specific legal advice on their existing recruitment programmes.

The first issue of concern will be whether a particular role filled under the former 457 visa programme has been removed from the new scheme. The Government removed some 200 jobs from the eligible skilled occupations list on 19 April 2017, so this aspect should be checked with an immigration lawyer.

Pilots and aircraft engineers, for instance, were removed from the occupations list and this has been cited as having a negative impact on the aviation industry.

“The sudden unexpected and shock changes to the occupations list for 457 visas have already started to come into effect immediately – this will likely impact many employers and employees quite significantly”, writes Justin Rickard of Australian Immigration Lawyers.

This lack of notice has left a number of employers and employees in a bind already.

“Some clients will have to withdraw [457 visa] applications because they are not on the new list”, says Marina Brizar, an immigration lawyer at Playfair Visa and Migration Services.

Existing 457 visa holders are unaffected, according to Government statements and normal legislative practice. People falling into this group would be wise nonetheless to monitor the situation and assess their long term intentions against any requirement to renew their visa.

Mr Rickard recommends that employees on current visas “proceed with lodgement [for a permanent visa] as soon as possible to avoid the changes”.

Both Mr Rickard and Ms Brizar point to the complexity of the overhaul, which will occur in at least three phases. The key dates for further changes are 1 July 2017, 31 December 2017 and 1 March 2018.

1 March 2018 is a particularly relevant milestone because of amendments to the permanent residency pathway, including the introduction of a new age limit for visa applicants.