IMPROVED English language-testing requirements and streamlined approvals processes will soon provide businesses with greater access to Australia’s skilled migration program, as part of a competitiveness program released recently by the federal government.

Released as part of the Australian Government’s Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda, the skilled migration reform package comprises many of the recommendations made by the 457 Visa Integrity Review Panel in recent weeks.

According the agenda, the reforms to skilled migration will:

  • streamline the processing of sponsorship, nomination and visa applications to reward low risk applicants and refocus compliance and monitoring activities on high risk applicants;
  • increase the sponsorship approval period from 12 to 18 months for start-up businesses, to give start-ups more time to make their businesses sustainable;
  • provide greater flexibility in relation to English language testing and skill requirements for 457 applicants, to ensure that the standards required are appropriate for the industries and occupations being sought; and
  • retain the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold at $53,900, ahead of a review within the next two years.

A joint statement by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, immigration minister Scott Morrison and trade minister Andrew Robb said the federal government was committed to a migration system that aided Australian business.

“An effectively managed skilled migration program ensures foreign workers supplement rather than substitute Australian workers,” the statement said.

“A business that is forced to close because it is unable to access the labour that it requires employs no-one, and that is a lose-lose situation for both employers and employees.

“Consistent with the recommendations of an Independent Integrity Review, the government will reform sponsorship requirements; streamline arrangements for existing approved sponsors; reform English language requirements and move to a risk-based approach for compliance and monitoring.”

According to the statement, the reforms also intend to uphold integrity in the 457 visa program.

“The 457 program must be a means of filling genuine skills gaps in the local labour market while not placing unnecessary administrative burdens on business,” the statement said.

“Safeguards will remain in place to ensure that the 457 visa program is not rorted – it will continue to be a requirement that a foreign worker receives the same market rates and conditions that are paid to an Australian doing the same job in the same workplace.”

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) welcomed the Competitiveness Agenda as critical to managing predicted skills challenges.

“Within the dimension of human capital, economic growth can only be powered by productivity and participation, and a skilled and inclusive workforce is critical,” said ACCI director Jenny Lambert, who was also a panel member of the government’s 457 Integrity Review.

“According to a number of employment forecasts undertaken relating to the Australian workforce over the next twenty years, it has been projected that this country will have a shortage of skilled workers, so we need to focus on skills development of Australians to meet the needs of industry, and bringing in skilled migration to fill gaps.

“The agenda correctly identifies these needs.”

No movement on labour market testing

National resource employer group AMMA welcomed the skilled migration reforms as a step in the right direction, but said further work was needed.

One of the priority reform areas for resource employers and also backed by the Integrity Review Panel, is the removal of labour market testing measures which add unnecessary cost and delays to the system. This recommendation has not been acted on by the government.

“The resource industry’s use of skilled migration has declined in recent years, but where we do employ international specialists, their expertise and skills are often critical to safety, performance and supporting a large number of aligned Australian jobs,” AMMA executive director Scott Barklamb said.

“The former Labor government’s four-month labour market testing requirement has added a new burden to resource employers already facing potential skills shortages predicted in the near future.

“With 457 visa sponsorship already costing up to $70,000 for an employer, labour market testing is an unnecessary and cumbersome measure that must be done away with if we are to support the skilled migration program that also creates Australia jobs.

AMMA will continue to work with members and the Australian Government to help build a skilled migration framework that supports jobs and economic growth for Australia. For more information about AMMA’s policy activities, click here.