Changes to Australia's employer-sponsored visa program from 1 July 2012

Several significant changes will go into effect 1 July 2012 in order to simplify the process of applying under Australia's permanent employer-sponsored visa program. Australian immigration said the reforms will improve the program's ability to meet Australia's economic needs and respond quickly to labour market demand.

Currently, the permanent employer-sponsored visa program consists of six subclass visas:
  • Two Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) visas (Subclasses 856 and 121)
  • Two Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) visas (Subclasses 857 and 119)
  • Two Labour Agreements program visas (Subclasses 855 and 120)
This will be changed so that the six existing visa subclasses will be reduced to two. This means combining the permanent labour agreement visa with the ENS and RSMS. There two subclass visas will be:
The ENS allows employers to sponsor foreign workers for permanent residence to fill vacancies within their business. While The RSMS helps businesses in regional areas outside the major metropolitan centres to recruit the skilled workers they need.

Within each of these visa subclasses there will be three streams:
  • Temporary Residence Transition stream: This is for subclass 457 visa holders who have worked for their employer for at least the last two years and the employer wants to offer them a permanent position in that same occupation.
  • Direct Entry stream: This is for applicants who are untested in the Australian labour market and have not held a subclass 457 for at least the last two years or are applying directly from outside Australia.
  • Agreement stream: This is for applicants who are being sponsored by an employer through a negotiated labour agreement or regional migration agreement.
Further changes to the programs include:
  • Introducing a fast-track path to permanent residency for eligible temporary skilled 457 visa-holders.
  • Removing the language testing requirement for existing 457 visa holders who apply for residency
  • Raising the upper age limit from 45 to 50 for permanent residence applications.
The immigration department plans to integrate the new ENS and RSMS visas with the skilled migrant selection model, SkillSelect, which will also be put in place from 1 July 2012. In order to apply for SkillSelect, you will have to submit an Expression of Interest. The system will work as an electronic two-stage process where prospective visa applicants first submit a claim for skilled migration through an online Expression of Interest. Following this, applicants may then be invited to submit an Australian visa application on the basis of their Expression of Interest.

If you wish to apply for a skilled immigration visa you should start preparing now so that you are ready to submit your application before 1 July 2012.

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