Changes to 457 visa program

A raft of minor changes to the 457 visa program have recently been introduced following recommendations from the independent panel’s report, Robust New Foundations. While more substantial changes have been foreshadowed for the financial year 2015-16 a number of these changes appear problematic due to opposition in parliament and the likelihood of these more substantial reforms being implemented remains uncertain.

The changes will facilitate use of the 457 visa programme for employers and visa applicants, in particular retaining the current Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold at $53,900 and by providing greater flexibility around English language testing. The reforms are only minor in nature and the overall impact is likely to be minimal for most users of the programme.

Exemption from Market Salary Rate evidence

Employers are now exempt from demonstrating that nominees for the 457 visas are being paid at market rates where the base remuneration is greater than $180,000 per annum. The level at which the exemption applies has been reduced from $250,000.

TSMIT to remain the same

The Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) will remain the same at $53,900. The TSMIT is expected to remain steady until the current review of the 400 series visas is finalised.

This is a positive move for employers who will benefit from access to a greater range of skilled staff as wage growth makes additional positions eligible for sponsorship.

English language changes

English language requirements have been reduced to allow for a more flexible approach to test scores. The new requirements allow for an average band score with a fixed minimum. The new 457 test requirements are:

• IELTS – overall 5 (minimum 4.5 in each component) – single sitting;
• TOEFL iBT – overall 36 (minimum 3 in listening & reading, minimum 12 in speaking and writing) – single sitting;
• PTE Academic – overall 36 (minimum 30 in each component) – single sitting;
• CAE – overall 154 (minimum 147 in each component) – single sitting – test taken on or after 1 January 2015;
• OET B – in each component

Tests must have been completed within three years of the date of the visa or nomination application.

Exemptions to the English language requirement on the basis of passport remain the same and include United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland.

Exemptions to demonstrating English language ability on the basis of schooling change from providing evidence of 5 years consecutive English language schooling to 5 years cumulative English language education.

The existing exemption for nominated applicants who are to be receive base remuneration above $96,400 will remain.

Changes will affect both new and undecided 457 visa applications.

Extension of Notification periods

The period allowed for employers to notify the Department in relation to notifiable events (including notification of cessation, change of duties, etc.) under the Business Sponsorship obligations have been extended to 28 days from 10 days.

Further changes to 457 visa programme

The above amendments to the 457 visa programme represent the first changes in line with the recommendations made by the independent panel’s report, Robust New Foundations. A number of further changes, including changes to the Training Benchmarks and duration of business sponsorships, have been announced with implementation scheduled before the end of the financial year 2015-2016.

Employers should be aware that some of these changes require legislative amendment and are likely to face opposition in the Senate and their implementation may be problematic for the foreseeable future.

Eventus Immigration will publish further information as it becomes available.

Change to character declarations

The 457 visa application form has been updated to include a wider range of character declarations. These changes are intended to bring the declarations into line with legislative changes to the character provisions made in December 2014.

Offshore Oil and Gas Industry – Update

The recent decision in the Federal Court and subsequent declarations by the Minister have now been clarified by the Department of Home Affairs.

Persons working on fixed and movable resource installations (such as mobile offshore drilling units, floating production and storage facilities, fixed rigs and floating platforms) require a 457 or 400 visa to complete work.

Non-citizens working on ships or specialist vessels are granted a Special Purpose Visa by operation of law. The SPV comes into effect when the non-citizen enters the permit or licence area where the offshore activity will occur and the vessel has been reported to the Department of Home Affairs. Because the grant of the SPV occurs by operation of law no application is required. SPV holders are not permitted to work on resource installations.

For further information on how these changes impact your business contact Hammond Taylor.

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