HR has an important role to play in communicating sponsorship regime changes to affected workers, some of whose residency dreams have been "shattered", experts say.
The introduction of a new Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa, announced by the Prime Minister last month, doesn't mean the 457 program is no longer in place, but it does mean an "agenda for change" has begun, say TSS Immigration visa services manager Michael Walker and immigration director John Unger.
Certain changes commenced at the time of the announcement, while others will start on 1 July, 31 December and in March next year, they tell an HR Daily Premium webcast.
In the meantime, HR should be prepared to counsel employees about how the changes will affect them based on whether their occupation:
- has been removed from the Consolidated Sponsorship Occupation List (CSOL);
- is on the Short-term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL); or
- is on the Medium and Long-term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL).
In Walker's view, the most painful change so far has been the removal of certain occupations from the CSOL, because even applications that were lodged before the April announcement will be refused.
Re-lodgment under a different occupation – one that is on the available lists and that the employee is qualified for – might, however, be an option.
A marketing research analyst, for example, who is now unable to renew their 457 visa or apply for permanent residency, could instead be sponsored for the role of marketing specialist, Unger explains – though the strategy depends on the employer's ability to hire a marketing specialist and pay the minimum salary of $65k.
Another possible strategy is to consider a worker's family situation – their partner might have a greater prospect of sponsorship than they do, or they might be in a relationship with an Australian who is able to act as their sponsor.
Employees whose occupations are on the newly-introduced Short-term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) could also face new uncertainty, particularly if they've been harbouring hopes of obtaining permanent residency in the future.
If an employee has already worked for more than two years as a sponsor, however, they might be eligible for assessment by the relevant authority for an occupation on the medium-to-long-term list, and then obtain sponsorship under a new four-year visa, Walker says. Further, if they work for the sponsor for three years while holding that visa, it could be a "pathway" to permanent residency.
Walker notes that the government's use of the word "grandfathering" suggests that, at least until March next year, current 457-visa holders whose two years with the sponsoring employer ends before March will still be eligible to apply for permanent residency under the existing temporary residents transition (TRT) provision.
"We're waiting for more clarification on that. And in terms of the grandfathering, they haven't actually said when the cut-off date will be for those grandfathering provisions, but we suspect if it goes beyond March 2018 it won't go much beyond," he says.
The easiest people to counsel will be employees on the medium and long-term list, Unger says, because their occupations will still be eligible for the two-year transition period, and existing applications will not be affected – subject to age criteria and a higher English threshold that will apply from 1 July.
Depending on their qualifications and work experience, these employees might also be eligible for direct entry to permanent residency under the employer nomination scheme, he adds.
Some employees will have launched permanent residency applications before the announcements. Unger and Walker's advice is to "sit tight" because the Prime Minister has said that 457-visa holders with pending applications will not be affected by the changes.