28 February 2005

Australian visa holders encouraged to stay

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The Australian Government will relax immigration regulations to make it easier for the 26,000 foreign workers sponsored by Australian businesses who enter the country each year to gain permanent residency when their four-year working visas expire.

The Australian Government is hoping changes to its immigration and visa policy encouraging four-year skilled visa holders to stay, will boost the country’s skilled labour pool.

Under the old Australian employer sponsored visa scheme, visa holders were subject to a series of strict terms allowing for permanent residency in Australia following the end of their four year term. The proposed changes will increase worker certainty and give businesses an edge in the international competition for skilled workers.

Department of Immigration documents show that under changes to the Employer Nomination Scheme, employers will no longer have to advertise their foreign employees' positions locally before they nominate the worker for permanent residency.

The Australian Government will also draw up a list of occupations eligible for the scheme, similar to the list already used by the Department of Immigration under its general skilled migration scheme.

To be eligible, overseas employees must have worked on a temporary visa in Australia for two years, and have worked for their nominating employee for at least one year. The Government will also relax the strict rules it has on the qualifications and experience applicants must have to be eligible.

Employees who have worked successfully for two years with their Australian employers will need less experience and qualifications than they required under the old system. Senior managers earning more than $151,500 will also have eligibility criteria relaxed.

Some policies will not change, for example to be eligible, workers will still have to be under 45 years old and speak vocational English.

Australia's official unemployment rate - at 5.1 per cent - is the lowest it has been in a generation, and has hit what some economists believe to be the natural rate of full employment. Industry groups are already complaining that a lack of skilled employees is preventing businesses from growing.

Immigration has already overtaken childbirth as the nation's main source of population growth, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that on trends workforce growth will drop from 170,000 new workers a year now to 105,000 a year in 2012 and just 12,000 in 2022.

Each year 7000 nominated employees apply for permanent residency, and that figure is expected to increase once the changes have been introduced.

Though not yet official, the changes have been outlined by the Government in a circular to immigration agents and it’s widely expected the new rules will be in place by the close of next month.

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