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Taking up that Aussie job offer – What Visa

It’s one of the least heralded ways of getting to stay in Australia. But as of January2013, there were already more than 105,000 people in Australia working on employer sponsored temporary 457 visas. Many of these 457 visa holders had their families with them. According to the outgoing Australian Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor it’s the fastest growing visa category at the moment.
Australian recruiters do target English employees,and ordinarily the 457 visa is the quickest way to get someone over to work on a particular project.

The 457 scheme is also an increasingly popular first step in the pathway to staying here permanently.

But after the major changes to the 457 program on 1July, you need to go into the 457 visa with your eyes open. The changes are going to impact particularly on Australian employer sponsors, who now will need to demonstrate that they have fulfilled their sponsorship obligations, that the position is genuinely needed, and that the local labour market has been tested before bringing in an overseas employee. Employers will also have to show that they have accepted the need to pay for what are their responsibilities under the program, instead of forcing visa applicants to pay.

The only good news for employers, and this is cold comfort, is that labour market testing is not likely to be a necessary part of the process for the next few months, as the 1 July changes are implemented sequentially.
But once the criteria are met, a job offer to a potential 457 employee should still be the quickest ticket to life in Australia.

Some 30% of applicants for these visas come from the UK and Ireland. The main occupations have been in health, IT, marketing and hospitality but there’s a real spread of occupations as these visas are short-term responses to employer needs, and it can get quite technical in determining the pathway if the occupation involved is not a mainstream occupation. So an accountant, cook, or registered nurse, or doctor or IT programmer is likely to be ok, but other occupations such as accounting technicians, fast food restaurant workers, IT data entry, might not be eligible.

The catch with getting a 457 visa, is getting that job offer from a viable sponsor, and from this month it’s going to be just that little bit harder for employers to be approved as sponsors.

Australia has just changed Prime Ministers, bringing in Kevin Rudd for a second go at the top job after he defeated Julia Gillard in a leadership spill at the end of June, and with an election scheduled for later this year there might be another Prime Minister by the end of the year.

Weirdly, however, the fact of a changed Prime Minister has locked in a set of changes which while possibly based on prejudice against foreign workers in Australia, will most likely lead to stable and long-term growth in this visa category.

The subclass 457 visa pathway has become a high profile element of Australia’s current Federal election campaign, and although the massive changes to the program will historically be regarded as a legacy of the recently deposed Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the implementation of the changes under the kinder hand of incoming PM Kevin Rudd might make this a transition of opportunity for 457 applicants rather than a transition of denial. As long as the changes to the program are administered fairly, it’s most likely that the 457 program will continue to exist for a very long time, even if Rudd is defeated in the coming election by his charismatic Liberal Party opponent Tony Abbott.

One big advantage of a 457 visa is speed. This makes it very popular with working holiday makers and couples without children who are able to move quickly. Although the changes from 1 July might slow things down a bit, overall most 457 visas applications are granted within a month, although as with all DIAC processes, if there are problems with documentation, character, identity, or health, then things can be slowed dramatically. Typically there are significant advantages in working through these issues where the employer already has a migration agent, although as with all migration categories a migration agent isn’t essential to a successful application.
Another big advantage of the 457 program is the opportunity to convert to permanent residence.

Every year, more than 30,000 457 holders convert to permanent residence visas. Half of them go direct to the Employer Nomination Scheme visa, 20% go to the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme visa, and of the rest, most go through the skilled pathways. Some 457 visa holders apparently find love and are sponsored on spouse visas, but that’s less than 5%of the total.

The July changes are going to be highly significant in many industries. The introduction of a universal English requirement is a major advantage for applicants from the UK and Ireland (but beware, you might still need an English test depending on your particular occupation and permanent visa pathway).

From a sponsored employee perspective, these are the changes to watch out for:

  • The minimum salary for a 457 visa holder will now be $53900, not including superannuation. This figure is known colloquially as the TSMIT and changes every year for new employees on 1July.
  • You must be offered an employment contract which is valid under Australian law. It’s no longer enough to have a“letter of offer” or “memorandum”, you do have to be given a contract which will give you rights under Australia’s new Fair Work legislation after you arrive in Australia.
  • Superannuation this year in Australia is increasing to 9.25% . Make sure that your contract guarantees that, and also check that it’s guaranteed as additional to the minimum salary. Sometimes employers think that superannuation is included in the minimum salary, when offered an employment contract make sure that they don’t make this mistake as it might slow your process down. It’s also worth understanding what the rules about Super are, since you may be able to take these savings with you when you leave Australia.
  • The asking salary has to be demonstrated to be a “market rate” salary, it’s worth confirming with employers how they have determined your salary, since under the current visa schemes this question may come up again when you’re looking at going over to permanent residence.
  • If the Subclass 457 visa holder ceases employment with the sponsor, the period which they cease employment must not exceed 90 consecutive days. As the 457 visa is temporary, it’s often used with temporary positions but the visa won’t always expire when the job terminates, and having another 90 days to either enjoy that well-earned holiday here or find another employer is a useful benefit.
  • It’s not always enough to be offered a job – the skills, qualifications and employment background that the Minister considers necessary to perform the tasks of the nominated occupation may also require evaluation, and in some cases you might be asked to undergo a skills assessment, which in most cases will involve a delay of 3-6 months while your qualifications and work experience are confirmed as suitable. Generally you should rely on your employer having taken the relevant factors into account, however for some positions, particularly generalist positions such as project and program administrators, or generalist manager positions, you may be required to submit to this additional procedure;
  • The charges for a 457 visa may be considerable, particularly given that a nomination will cost $330 and the visa application at least $900, much more fora family with children. DIAC has devised a strategy for forcing employers to meet costs, and if asked to pay any visa charges, you should ask for confirmation that it’s a genuine charge that you’re obliged to pay.
  • Whatever you do, spend a few moments reviewing the DIAC website to make sure that you meet the criteria and know how you’re affected by the changes: http://www.immi.gov.au/skilled/changes-457-program.htm.

So in summary, it’s a good time to be an applicant for a 457 visa, but in view of all the changes, take the time to be aware of your rights and insist on using a registered migration agent if possible, since it’s going to be very easy for employers to go wrong in this period of change.

The bottom line is that the 457 visa must be tied to a job, and that job must involve an eligible occupation, and the salary (not normally including employment allowances) must be at least $53900. And above all, the employer must be an approved sponsor, or this can’t work.

George Lombard was recently installed as a Fellow the Migration Institute of Australia as recognition of his professional skills and experience as a migration agent. In his previous career he was an Australian government lawyer and legal officer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. His business is based in Sydney although he is well-known on migration forums such as British Expats and Poms in Oz.