Australian citizenship: new changes to citizenship bill to be introduced this month

The bill has been assigned ‘a priority status’ by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s department and will be introduced to Parliament this month.The Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017 is set to make a comeback.

The bill has been assigned ‘a priority status’ by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s department and will be introduced to the Parliament this month.

Greens Senator Nick McKim raised the subject at the recent Senate Estimates hearing of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee on May 22nd, where Department of Home Affairs Deputy Secretary of Policy, Ms Linda Geddes said the bill had been assigned ‘a priority status’ and will be introduced ‘in the winter parliamentary sitting period’.

The winter parliament session for June 2018 is scheduled for 18 to 21 June and 25 to 28 June but the bill has not yet been listed on the notice paper for Senate Business.

A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs did not confirm the date but said, “The timing for the introduction of legislation is a matter for Government.”

Senator McKim, who has been vocal in his opposition to the bill, told that he has not seen a copy of the new legislation but said he will continue to oppose the proposed changes to the bill which make it harder for migrants to become Australian citizens.

“We will be opposing the new bill and will work with other Senators to block it in the Parliament,” he said.

Last year, the Turnbull government’s first attempt to pass the bill failed after staunch opposition from Labor, the Greens, and the Nick Xenophon Team.

The legislation makes several changes to citizenship requirements.

They include changing the period of permanent residency from one year to four, a modest English language requirement, a new values test, and stronger character checks.

Potential citizens will also need to demonstrate their integration into the community, including by “behaving in a manner consistent with Australian values”.

The amended bill, which makes the wait longer and eligibility tougher for migrants, was struck down after the government missed the deadline in the Senate, thus striking off the bill by default on October 18th, 2017.

The new requirements which were published on the Home Affairs website have recently been taken down.

The spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs did not explain why they have been taken down but said, “Information regarding any changes to Australian citizenship requirements will be available on the Department’s website.”

Over 200,000 citizenship applications awaiting outcome

The citizenship backlog today has reached alarming numbers with more than 200,000 applicants awaiting the outcome of their applications.

“The number of citizenship applications on hand as at 30 April for conferral is 209,826,” a member of the Home Affairs Department told the Senate Estimates Hearing in May.

Senator Nick McKim, who has called the proposed changes ‘hateful and divisive’, says this is due to the department ‘not allocating enough resources’ to process pending applications.

“The huge backlog of 200,000 means the department is not allocating enough resources.

“It is already too hard and taking too long to get citizenship. The government needs to make it easier,” he said.

Australian Government launches inquiry into mistreatment of international students

Fraudulent practices affecting thousands of international students in Australia will be part of the Federal Government’s inquiry starting this week. The focus of the inquiry will be migration agents and student agencies.

On Wednesday, June 27, the Joint Standing Committee on Migration will commence the first public hearing of this inquiry that looks into the efficacy of the current regulation of Australian migration agents.

The investigation includes the nature and prevalence of fraud, professional misconduct and other breaches by registered migration agents, the current review mechanisms for migration agents and the adequacy of penalties.

The inquiry committee is collecting evidence of the volumes and patterns of unregistered migration agents and education agents providing unlawful immigration services in Australia.

In the first session, the Department of Home Affairs is expected to be the only body allowed to participate as a witness.

In March, the Assistant Minister for Home Affairs, Alex Hawke, initiated a Parliamentary call to review the regulatory framework for international education. Mr Hawke asked the Committee to conduct an investigation into the effectiveness of the current regulation of Australian immigration agents.

Committee chair, Jason Wood, told  the investigation hopes to conclude with a series of recommendations to the government designed to combat unlicensed immigration agents.

“What we have found out there is a lot of concerns when it comes from mainly what we called unregistered immigration agents, taking advantage of Australians, and also foreigners, could be international students trying to come to the country,” Mr Wood said.

“We want to come out with a report to the government to make recommendations and hopefully change this and could be more powers, could be more regulation; that is the intention of the inquiry.”

Mr. Wood didn’t rule out an increase of resources to protect international students from scams to strengthen international education – a sector that in 2017 injected AUD $32.3 billion to the Australian economy, according to the Department of Education and Training.

“It may be a recommendation that we need to put more resources in. But at the start of the issue, it is difficult to tell what the recommendations are because we do not know what our experts are going to be asking us to do with the witnesses.”

For the last four months, the Committee has been collecting background information and receiving submissions from both public and private entities.

So far 34 organisations, including the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Education and Training Department of Australia and the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), have lodged their submissions.

This Committee is also collecting relevant stakeholders’ views through two online questionnaires, targeting students, immigration agents and education agents.

Maria Vamvakinou, Labor MP and vice-president of the Federal Joint Standing Committee on Migration says they are looking to identify any deficiency that could compromise the system and they are particularly interested in the role of education agents.

“At this stage we are still receiving presentations and the Joint Standing Committee on Migration will begin its public hearings in Sydney and Melbourne in mid-July,” Ms Vamvakinou told .

“The hearings are open to the public and I would recommend any member of your community to attend, if they wish.”

The inquiry begins two weeks after the Ombudsman of International students published a report that describes the investigation of fraud of the agency ‘Tu Futuro’ which allegedly scammed hundreds of Latin American students for more than AUD 500,000. SBS Spanish and SBS Portuguese have been reporting on this story since January 2017.

The crucial role of the education agents

The market of international education in Australia has been regulated since the year 2000, when the Federal Government created specific norms and regulations to guarantee minimum standards for international students. The main actors are the education providers, the migrant agents and the education agents.

Education agents play an important role in the recruitment of international students. In 2017 education agents were responsible for 73.6% of the enrolments of the more than 624,000 foreign students who came to Australia to study.

However, they are not legally responsible under Australian regulations, as detailed by the Australian Department of Education and Training in their submission to the inquiry starting this week.

The state’s oversight responsibility over the education agents is outsourced to the Australian private schools providing the courses. According to the 2018 National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018, it is the role of the “Australian registered providers to ensure that their education agents act ethically, honestly and in the best
interest of overseas students and uphold the reputation of Australia’s international education sector.”

The 2018 National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students is one of the three regulators for educational services that are overseen by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA). The other two legal frameworks that regulate the industry are the Education Services for International Students Act (ESOS 2000) and the Higher Education Standards Framework (2015).

Last month TEQSA’s executive director Anthony McClaran told “TEQSA regulates universities and schools providing higher education and it is the responsibility of the provider to ensure the agents they work with here in Australia and overseas act in an ethical and honest manner, and in the best interest of international students.”

When complaints are not collective, instead of contacting TEQSA, students can submit them to the Commonwealth Ombudsman who can help potential, current and former students of private schools and universities based in Australia. International students also have a specific Ombudsman: the Ombudsman for Overseas Students.

The Ombudsman can help, for example, in the cases of complaints about an administrative tariff or a reimbursement that was not agreed in the written contract signed by the international student or potential student.

Notwithstanding, in May the Ombudsman’s office told that they are only authorised to investigate complaints of student agents who have an agreement to act on behalf of an Australian school. “We do not have jurisdiction to investigate educational agents that do not have an agreement to represent a private educational provider.”

The issues with education agents are not new. Since commencement in 2011, the Office of the Ombudsman has seen issues arise in complaints involving education agents. Some of the reported issues are: providing false or misleading advice about a course or provider, enrolling a student with one provider while telling the student they had been enrolled with a different provider; accepting tuition fees before the student signed the written agreement; failed to pass on tuition fees to the provider and even failing to give the student a copy of the written agreement, including the refund policy.

If international students have any issues with agents that do not have a formal agreement to represent Australian educational providers, the students should contact their local authorities and present a complaint against the agent. When the student is in Australia, they should contact the Australian consumer affairs agency of the state or territory where the agent operates.

In all cases, potential students can access the list of local student (education) agents in each country here. Only Colombia has 38 local agents listed in the Australian government website.

Listing overseas education agents in the official website of the Australian government might be confusing for potential international students. It can mislead them to believe the agents listed in the official site are legally responsible under Australian regulations, while they are not.

What happened to the victims of ‘Tu Futuro’ student agency in Australia?

The student agency industry showed its dark side with the alleged fraud committed by Tu Futuro agency in December 2016.

In January 2017, SBS Spanish broke the story of hundreds of international students from Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and Spain, who were asking the Australian authorities to help them recover thousands of dollars given to the owners of ‘Tu Futuro agency’ – who operated out of Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

According to the students, they paid every expense to enrol in English courses in Australia except the cost of medical insurance and accommodation.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman Michael Manthorpe released a report that summarises the investigation that he carried out in 2017, due to the significant number of complaints received against ‘Tu Futuro’.

The document, dated June 15, 2018, states that the actions of this student agency generated economic losses of half a million dollars to hundreds of international students and involved 17 schools.

However, the Ombudsman report says the actions of this one agent aren’t indicative of a system failure.

The Ombudsman also says that together with the Tuition Protection Service (TPS) they could recover almost AUD $40,000 that was returned to the affected students.

The report explains that some of those affected received financial compensation while others arrived to agreements with the schools directly.

César Merino is a Colombian student who acted as the coordinator of hundreds of victims. He says that he has already accepted that the savings that took so much effort to collect are lost in the hands of the owners of ‘Tu Futuro’ agency.

Mr Merino said he paid the agency almost AUD $13,000, including the cost of his course and that of his brother. The agency did not pay the money to the institution on the Gold Cost where he planned to study English. Neither the payment vouchers nor the electronic transfers made to ‘Tu Futuro’ were enough to support his claim.

The most affected were those who didn’t receive the certificate of enrolment from the schools.

“The majority of those affected that sent the money directly to “Tu Futuro” agency in Australia have not received any kind of solution until today,” Mr Merino said. In mid-2017 he travelled to the Gold Coast to start again from scratch after getting into debt with a bank back in Colombia.

“We hope that in one way or another, education agencies – together with the schools – start being legally responsible for the educational processes they offer,” he said.

K.A is another victim of ‘Tu Futuro’. She asked to be identified by her initials. She told that after students made complaints to the Australian authorities, by the time they finally responded to the complaints, the agency had closed the business, packed up and left Australia. Some students have told that the owners of El Futuro are now living in the region of Tucuman, Argentina.

K.A. wants to warn potential foreign students – especially those who are still in their countries trying to come to Australia using local education agents. They are the most vulnerable of becoming victims of fraud because no Australian authority directly regulates student agencies, not within Australia, let alone in other countries.

“Education is one of Australia’s biggest sources of income and it seems very easy to become a student agent as they are not regulated,” K.A. said.

“When I tried to report my case, it wasn’t anyone’s competence: not the police because it was not a crime in Australia but overseas so it was no one’s competence. There is no one to report this case to.”

K.A. arrived Australia with her family because she managed to receive the letter of enrolment from the school her husband applied to through ‘Tu Futuro’. However, she lost nearly AUD $24,000 in the process.

She says schools should be the only ones authorised to receive money from students, without intermediate agencies.

“It is very bad that the education agents are administrating the money. If it had gone directly to the school to which it had to be paid to, it would have been very different.

My money was in the agents’ hands and education agents aren’t regulated by anyone. It was as if I had given the money to a random person”, KA said .

César Piracoca, another Colombian aspiring student, is still in Bogotá waiting for a solution.

He says he received no official support during the investigation, even though he had the enrolment certificates from Riverton, the Australian Institute of Business and Technology, which he paid for through ‘Tu Futuro’. He was enrolled to attend a general English course and a Diploma in Business Administration.

Mr Piracoca asks the Australian authorities to increase the control of the education agencies. He said he contacted ‘Tu Futuro’ agency through the official website “Study in Australia”, administered by the Australian Committee of Trade and Investment (Austrade).

“They (the Australian government) should have more legislation, a way for the government to know where the money is coming from and who is making money from those resources,” he told .

“Because the truth is that one could send money through many informal ways, with people, or through electronic means, such as PayPal and electronic transfers (…) Anyone can be a student agent.”

Mr Piracoca said he still has no certainty whether he can come with his family to study in Australia. After the economic blow that lost him his savings to ‘Tu Futuro’, the latest news is that Riverton School – where he was supposed to study – closed its doors two months ago. https://www.riverton.edu.au/

The joint Committee will also hold public hearings in Sydney and Melbourne but is yet to set any dates.

Family visa applications processing taking up to 50 years

Limited places and a very high demand for some family visas have ballooned the waiting periods up to half a century.

Indian migrant Puneet Mittal has always wanted his parents to live with his family in Australia. This year he applied for a permanent visa under the Non-Contributory Parent visa for his parents. But it won’t be before 2048 that a decision on their visa applications is made.

Mr Mittal’s father is in his late sixties and mother is in early sixties. They have been given bridging visas and can stay in Australia, but can’t access Medicare benefit until their applications are decided.

Mr Mittal says the three-decade waiting period is “comical”.

“By the time my parents’ applications are processed, they will not be in good health as they are now and may not be considered medically fit for the visa grant,” he tells.

“I am pretty sure, they are not going to get a permanent residency. I just applied for the visa so that they are saved the hassle of reapplying for the visa repeatedly.”

The Department of Home Affairs has recently published the current processing timeframe for some family visas. While applications for parent visas are likely to take approximately 30 years, the timeframe for processing Aged Dependent Relative and Remaining Relative visa applications is “up to 50 years”, according to the Department’s website.

These applications are assessed in order of lodgement and are placed in a queue accordingly.

Once the cap for a particular year has been met, the remaining assessed applications are queued for processing in the subsequent year.

According to the information released by the Department of Home Affairs on migration planning levels, it will grant a maximum of 1500 parent visas, 7,175 contributory parent visas and 500 other family visas including Remaining Relative and Aged Dependent Relative visas. The cap of 500 on other family visas is down from last year’s 900.

Gujhar Bajwa of Bajwa Migration in Melbourne says some family visas, especially parents visas are in high demand.
“Because the annual migration planning allows only a small number of visas under the parent category while the demand is increasing, a huge queue has now built up which will take decades to clear.”

He says while parent visas are popular because applicants can stay with their children in Australia while on a bridging visa, other family visas, such as the Remaining Relative visa, are not very popular among his clients.

“In all the years that I have been in this profession, I haven’t seen any of my clients getting this visa. The last one I know of was in 2003,” Mr Bajwa told.

 

 

H-1B visa to green card: Wait time for Indian workers is up to 151 years

Many of the Indian tech employees in the United States who don’t leave the country after their H-1B visas expire get sponsored by companies offering permanent jobs — setting workers on the path to a green card granting permanent residence.

It turns out that the path can be very, very long.

o continue working after an H-1B runs out, foreign citizens may obtain an EB-1 visa for people with “extraordinary” ability, an EB-2 for people with advanced degrees or an EB-3 for bachelor’s degree holders.

As of mid-April, more than 300,000 Indian immigrants were on EB visas and waiting for green cards, according to a new report from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. Add in spouses and minor children, and the total number on hold exceeds 600,000 people.

The approximately 217,000 Indians on the EB-2 visa for holders of advanced degrees have little reason to hope they’ll ever get a green card, according to Cato’s research, based on federal government data.

“At current rates of visa issuances, they will have to wait 151 years for a green card,” Cato reported Friday.

“Obviously, unless the law changes, they will have died or left by that point.”

Because each visa category is allotted a minimum of 40,040 green cards, and the share is not adjusted according to demand, and because immigrants from any one country can’t receive more than 7 percent of green cards issued each year, the wait times vary, according to Cato.

“The shortest wait is for the highest-skilled category for EB-1 immigrants with ‘extraordinary ability,’ the think tank reported.

“The extraordinary immigrants from India will have to wait ‘only’ six years. EB-3 immigrants — those with bachelor’s degrees — will have to wait about 17 years.”

The 1965 legislation that allowed immigrants from any nation to receive up to 7 percent of the green cards issued each year means that Estonians, for example, have a much easier time getting permanent residence than Indians, according to Cato.

Government considers mandatory English test for all new residents: Report

Foreigners hoping to settle in Australia on permanent residency visas could soon be sharpening their pencils and cleaning their erasers as the government gears up to introduce mandatory English tests for those wanting to live Down Under.

The Australian reports that Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge is considering sweeping changes to the system that would require those wanting to stay in Australia on a permanent resident visa to pass an English test.

At present only those applying for citizenship must pass such a test.

A permanent resident visa is given to those who want to stay in Australia without becoming a citizen. They can live, work and study without restriction in Australia, but cannot vote and must ensure they have the correct visa if they want to travel outside the country and reenter.

It’s estimated that close to one million people living in Australia cannot speak English and, according to The Australian, Tudge will argue in a speech delivered on Thursday, that mandatory testing for all new residents will help eliminate the problem.

“This is particularly so given the concentration of non-English speakers in particular pockets, largely in Melbourne and Sydney,” his speech reportedly says.

“There are suburbs where up to one in three cannot speak the national language well or at all. Further, because of the concentration in particular areas, there is less demand on the individuals to have to interact with other ­Australians.”

The government faced criticism last year over claims its citizenship test was so hard not even born-and-raised Aussies could pass it. It has since proposed changes to citizenship laws and suggested a broader conversational language skills test be required instead.

Earlier this year, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said it was a “no brainer” for all migrants to be proficient in English.

If you’re in Australia we don’t ask you to abandon your culture or your heritage but if you’re in Australia you abide by our laws. There is one law that applies equally to every Australian, regardless of your background or place of birth, and people need to understand that… The majority of people do,” he told.

The minister added: “If people want to become Australian citizens… we need to have demonstrated that people integrated into our community, that they are working. There are lots of reasons that this is a good law, and we’ll continue to push through.”

Dutton slams AAT decisions after staff enjoy $600k ‘tax-funded’ trip

Peter Dutton has warned the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) to urgently change its ways and focus on deporting foreign criminals, after hundreds of staff from the government body enjoyed a $600,000 conference on the Sunshine Coast.

Staff from the tribunal spent three days at the 361-room Novotel Twin Waters Resort – which Channel 9 claims was funded by taxpayers – but many of them didn’t get the warm welcome they may have expected.

A Current Affair caught footage of the family of a murdered Melbourne woman protesting outside. According to the show, she was tragically stabbed to death in 2013 by a Turkish man, who the Department of Home Affairs has twice attempted to ban from entering Australia. However, those decisions were reportedly overthrown both times by the AAT.

It’s just another in a long line of controversial U-turns by the tribunal that has sparked outrage in recent years, as decisions to deport criminals have been overturned allowing them to stay in the country.

Now, Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton has responded to the AAT’s luxury trip away, and said he hopes part of their agenda was to change their ways and focus more on protecting national security.

He said: “I hope that part of their deliberation up at the resort was to look at ways they can start to reflect community standards more regularly than what we see at the moment.

“I think people want to see community standards reflected, people want criminals kicked out of our country. We’re not going to take a backwards step on this move, we want to make sure these visa cancellations are made. It’s in the national interest that they provide for a safer society. We want that backed up by the courts and we don’t apologise for that.”

The AAT provides independent reviews on decisions made by government departments. Its panellists are not publicly named, although its most senior executives are, and most of its decisions are not made publicly available. While they have the power to overturn an initial decision by the Department of Home Affairs, Dutton’s team can then overturn that decision again in certain, more extreme, circumstances.

Dutton confirmed some of the previous members of the tribunal are no longer working there, and added: “We’re looking at ways in which we can reform the process, because at the moment we are spending millions of dollars, we’re seeing criminals who should be deported staying here and it’s undermining the work we’re doing in cancelling the visas and I’m not going to tolerate that.

“I want to make sure that we have people in our country and welcome them warmly, but if people commit crimes against Australians they need to understand that the default position is that they will go.”

The minister said it comes down to the make-up of the tribunal and who’s working there – and even said it goes further than the AAT, and some judges working in magistrate’s and criminal courts can make the wrong decisions too.

It comes after Dutton finally hit out at the AAT in a scathing attack just days ago, and took the rare opportunity to slam the tribunal as a whole – confirming he’s calling for some of its members to be replaced.

‘I want them out’: Dutton slams AAT over more shock deportation U-turns

“We have a problem with the AAT and there’s no sense pretending otherwise,” he told radio host Ray Hadley. “The AAT does not reflect, in many of these cases, the view of the Australian people. In my judgement, it’s unacceptable to be appointing people who clearly don’t have the confidence of the government, and clearly don’t have the confidence of the Australian people.”

The Herald Sun previously revealed that there were 164 cases in which criminals were saved from having their visas cancelled, or simply not granted, over the past eight years. Of those, eight were convicted murderers, 17 were rapists, 33 were drug dealers and 23 were found guilty of armed robbery.

In a statement released on April 27, the AAT noted that “recent media coverage included claims questioning the transparency and accountability of the AAT’s operations”. The tribunal noted that decisions on whether to approve or set aside decisions by one of the Department of Home Affair’s delegates made up only a small part of its workload.

 

Bridging visa surge includes 37,000 mystery holders and swamps permanent migration cuts

Massive growth in Australia’s ballooning temporary migration is dwarfing the Government’s cuts to the permanent intake.

Key points:

  • An extra 40,000 people are in Australia on bridging visas compared to a year ago
  • The Government has revealed it plans to cut the permanent intake by up to 20,000 this year
  • More than 2.2 million temporary visa holders are currently in Australia, a record high

The number of people who hold bridging visas — the same kind of visa given to the Commonwealth Games athletes who are seeking asylum — has hit a historic high.

At the end of March, 195,000 people with bridging visas were in Australia, including more than 37,000 whose nationality was not specified.

That is up more than 40,000 on a year ago, and close to 90,000 since 2014, according to official Department of Home Affairs figures.

It has pushed the number of people in Australia on temporary visas to more than 2.2 million — again, a record high.

Bridging visas are usually given to migrants whose substantive applications are currently being processed.

Jonathan Granger, director of Granger Australia and a former national president of the Migration Institute of Australia, described the migration program as “chaotic”.

“The resources available to the department are limited every year by Government, and yet Government rolls out reform agendas that are not well thought through, that require transitional arrangements and require multiple layers of processing against regulations in the same visa areas,” he said.

“The result of those things is significant delays.”

Attempt to cut migration
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said the Government was planning on cutting the permanent migration intake from its traditional level of 190,000 per year, down to approximately 170,000 this year.

But that number is dwarfed by the scale of the temporary visa program.

In the past year an additional 150,000 visitors are in Australia on temporary visas, including 33,000 more foreign students.

Many of these — such as students, backpackers and many bridging visa holders — have extensive work rights.

A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said processing times were driven by a range of factors including:

  • the volume of applications received,
  • completeness of the application,
  • how promptly applicants respond to any requests from the department, and
  • the complexity of assessments in relation to health, character and national security requirements.

“The department monitors feedback, trends, and fluctuating processing times each month to identify issues in specific caseloads, opportunities for continuous business process improvement and client service efficiencies,” they told.

The mystery 37,000
The boom in bridging visas has been driven by a mysterious component of 37,000 visa holders for whom the Department of Home Affairs will not reveal their nationality.

he Department of Home Affairs declined to provide more explanation about this group.

Mr Granger said the program changes and lack of resources meant there were growing numbers of visa refusals that ended up at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

“This results in a significant rise of unwarranted refusals, and transfers time delays and costs over to the Appeals Tribunal,” he said.

“The Appeals Tribunal is wasting resources on expensive tribunal members deciding on simple visa matters.”

The average processing time at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for temporary work visas is 381 days over the past six months, up from 286 for the corresponding period a year ago.

Wayne Parcell, immigration partner at EY, said it was impossible to determine the “root cause” of the increase in bridging visas without more information.

“A surge in application rates in different visa categories, and looking at visa refusal numbers in different categories, can just as much be a reason for the increase as an increase in processing times across a range of visa categories,” he said.

Mr Parcell said many of his clients already on bridging visas were forced to request separate bridging visas if they needed to travel — for example for business or family visits — creating additional administrative load on the department.

“A reduction in the number of bridging visas is possible if a multiple entry travel facility was granted to all applicants who are legitimately awaiting a visa decision in Australia,” he said.

“This would decrease administrative effort for the Department of Home Affairs and improve the service experience for clients.”

The Turnbull government has fully reversed a regulation that effectively doubled the income requirements for visa sponsors.

The Coalition has officially scrapped its changes to so-called Assurance of Support visa sponsorship rules, weeks after a government backdown was negotiated to prevent a Senate defeat.

Social services minister Dan Tehan tabled the documents in parliament on Wednesday to complete the reversal, less than two months after the changes were introduced.

The government struck a deal with the Greens to restore the old rules when it became apparent the party had enough support from Labor and the crossbench to defeat the changes on the floor of the parliament.

The new requirements were brought in at the beginning of April and meant residents needed much higher salaries to bring their parents to Australia on a visa.

An individual trying to sponsor their two parents would need to prove they earn an annual income of $86,607, up from around $45,000 under the previous rules.

While the rules were in place for a number of weeks, the minister agreed that anyone who applied in that window would be reassessed under the old rules.

Greens senator Nick McKim thanked the minister for “engaging” on the issue and welcomed the “change of heart”.

“No doubt the government could see the writing on the wall, in terms of the Senate being prepared to support our motion,” he told.

The reversal came following weeks of backlash from migrant communities, with the Chinese community in particular launching a sophisticated petition campaign.

Reporting from various media channels demonstrated the changes would have impacted tens of thousands of migrants on Australia’s long waiting list for visas who were still being vetted by the Home Affairs department.

The coalition is putting the early squeeze on foreign workers

The 457 visa for temporary workers won’t be officially abolished until March 1, but the number granted has already fallen by more than a third – heralding a squeeze on foreign workers by the coalition.

Australian National University researcher Henry Sherrell has found the number of primary 457 visas granted in the 2017 September quarter was down by 35.7 per cent on the same period of 2016.

And the dive was not because some jobs – most famously, “goat farmer” – have been ruled ineligible. In a paper published by the Parliamentary Library, the ANU Development Policy Centre research officer reports only a fifth of the decline in 457s came from the scrapped occupations.

Eight of the top 10 occupations for primary 457 visas had significant double-digit declines. Developer programmers were down by 42 per cent to 350 in the quarter, ICT business analysts plunged 49 per cent to 238, resident medical officers dropped 18 per cent to 436 and the top 457 job, cook, was off 29 per cent to 452.

Given the near-record employment growth last year, the sharp reduction in 457s appears to have nothing to do with demand for labour, but a response by employers and would-be employees to hiring and gaining permanent residency being made more difficult and expensive.

The size of the fall and the breadth of occupations to experience it during a period of very fast employment growth should raise some interesting questions about the nature of the Australian workforce and how 457s have been used.

From March 1, the 651 occupations eligible for 457 visas will be formally replaced by 435 occupations eligible for Temporary Skilled Shortage (TSS) visa, which comes in two flavours: a two-year visa that can be extended only once and offers no pathway to permanent residency; and a four-year visa that can lead to permanent residency. There are only 183 occupations eligible for the four-year visa.

The possibility of permanent residency seems to make an immediate difference to applications. Sherrell notes that while cook 457s plunged, visas granted to chefs rose slightly. Chefs are in the pot for four-year visas, cooks are left in the two-year pan.

“The increase in chefs could reflect genuine growth in employer demand for chefs,” Sherrell writes. “However, it may also reflect employers who previously nominated cooks now nominating chefs as this is a more advantageous occupation for migrants and employers given visa conditions. If the job being performed in the business has not changed, this might be called ‘occupational inflation’, as employers upgrade their occupations to take advantage of more beneficial immigration policy settings.”

Visa requirements tighten further from March. For the shorter TSS, applicants will need at least two year’s work experience – wiping out many of the foreign students and backpackers that have been transitioning. Employers will be subject to greater scrutiny, higher visa costs and a new training levy. There are stricter English language requirements and a lower maximum age for the four-year visas.

Sherrill notes a lack of other useful data on 457s, such as salary figures and the number of applications that are rejected, and warns that isolating the effects of specific policy change is difficult amidst multiple factors, but he suggests the eligibility changes could further reduce demand for TSS visas.

Before anyone gets too excited thinking fewer overseas workers will mean higher wages, Sherrell’s isn’t the only interesting paper to consider. Slate.com reports an American study that has relevance here on why workers aren’t getting decent wage rises despite jobs growth and falling unemployment.

The study suggests it’s not so much a matter of an excess of workers holding down wages, but a shortage of employers.  The idea is that in various geographical areas and fields, hiring is concentrated among a relatively small number of businesses resulting in a monopsony problem – a lack of competition among employers.

“Monopsony is essentially monopoly’s quieter, less appreciated twin sibling,” Slate explains. “A monopolist can fix prices because it’s the only seller in the market. A monopsonist, on the other hand, can pay whatever it likes for labour or suppliers, because it’s the only company buying or hiring.”

Given the limited number of players in key Australian industries, it’s not impossible to think monopsony develops whereby it’s not in those players’ interests to compete too hard for workers, or to at least not compete on price.

Meanwhile, back at the 457s, Sherrell says there’s a lack of analysis of the changes but cites an August report by the Australian Population Research Institute’s Bob Birrell – a campaigner against present migration levels.

Birrell called the 457 changes “the first serious sign that either major political party is prepared to tackle the immigration issue”.

“Make no mistake about the significance of the rest,” he wrote. “When fully in place from March 2018, the flagship ENS (employer nomination scheme for permanent residency) program will fall to less than a third of its recent size of 48,250. The number of TSS visas will also fall sharply relative to the current number of 457 visas being granted.”

Birrell expects further reforms by the government to make their immigration policy change more obvious to the public.

The apparent contradiction here is that while fewer 457/TSS visas would mean a relatively small reduction in the number of people in the country, there’s been no sign of a change in the permanent visa quota of 190,000, plus humanitarian admissions. Family reunions – mainly spouses – get 60,000 places and skilled migrants and their families the rest.

Whether the 130,000 should come as “newbies” based on their qualifications or those given a trial run through temporary work is a matter of further debate.  The Productivity Commission has argued that temporary workers here should not be given an advantage in the selection process, but the Lowy Institute’s Peter Mares makes a casefor the two-step temporary-to-permanent pathway having significant benefits for productivity because it facilitates better matching of skills to positions.

“Before the introduction of 457 visas, skilled migrants would often be granted a permanent visa before arrival in Australia,” Mares wrote. “Visas would be issued under the points system, which was the government’s attempt to match the annual skilled migration intake to its expectation of the number and types of professionals the economy would need in the year ahead. Migrants would often land in Australia and then search for a job to match their qualifications.

“Frequently, however, they might end up taking a position in which their skills were not well utilised. (We are all familiar with the scenario of engineers driving cabs, for example.) This might have been because government assumptions about the labour market were incorrect, or because those assumptions had been overtaken by a change in business conditions.”

p.s. despite the crackdown on goat farmers and kennel handlers,  the list or eligible skilled occupations for foreigners remains somewhat curious. It includes “journalists and other writers”. Anecdotal evidence would point to no shortage.  At least “federal politicians” doesn’t feature.

Employer Sponsorship (457 Visa) Update

Employer Sponsorship – Update 15 January 2018

Since the Government’s announcement on 19 April 2017 there have been a number of changes to the employer sponsored program, with more to take effect as early as January 2018 and in early March 2018.

The relevant legislation hasn’t been released but, Immigration recently issued their January Skilled Visa E-news to help understand some of these arrangements.

New Occupations Lists from January 2018
Immigration have indicated the changes to employer sponsored occupations lists for temporary and permanent skilled visas will be introduced around 17 January 2018.
We have been advised these changes will not impact undecided applications, providing they were lodged before the change takes effect. Given the severe impact similar changes had to temporary residents last year, this is a welcomed approach.

Further information is expected to be released in the coming days.

457 Visas Replaced by TSS Visas from March 2018
The 457 Visa will be replaced by the Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) Visa in early March 2018.
TSS Validity Period
Currently, a 457 visa granted on or after 19 April 2017 is valid for:
Up to 2 years if the nominated occupation is on the Short-Term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL), unless exempt by an international trade obligation), or
Up to 4 years if the nominated occupation is on the Medium to Long-Term Strategic Skilled List (MLTSSL)
This arrangement will continue when the TSS is introduced.

Police Clearances
In July, Immigration introduced the requirement for 457 applicants to provide police clearance certificates for each country they spent more than 12 months in. This will continue with the TSS Visa.
Labour Market Testing
In March 2018, Labour Marketing Testing (LMT) will be required on all TSS applications where international trade obligations don’t apply. Currently, LMT applies when nominating trade, nursing, or engineering occupations.
If LMT is introduced for all cases, this could delay the lodgement of a TSS application and impact the Sponsor’s ability to urgently fill their vacant position.

Further details on the TSS including streamlined initiatives for processing applications will be announced by Immigration in February.

Employer Sponsored Permanent Residence
In March 2018, further changes are planned for employer sponsored permanent residence as outlined in our article 14 November 2017.
In Immigration’s January Skilled Visa E-news they advised the transitional arrangements, or grandfathering provisions, for certain 457 visa holders and 457 applicants as at 18 April 2017, were subject to final approval.

More details are to be announced in February.

Conclusion
Many are unsure whether they should use a Migration Agent to lodge their visa application.
Since 19 April 2017, obtaining an employer sponsored visa has become more complex and slower than was previously the case. More changes are in the pipeline and much of the information circulating about Immigration’s announcements may be confusing.

Employers should also be aware of upcoming changes in January 2018 and March 2018 and where possible, applications should be lodged before these critical dates to ensure that the impact of the changes is minimised.

MY VISA ONLINE can assist with ensuring that an employer sponsored visa is lodged prior to any critical dates. We can also ensure that it is lodged as a “decision ready” application, and so can be processed as quickly as possible.

If you are an employer and would like advice on sponsoring staff, please call our consultant on 03 9670 1010.

If you are looking at your own visa options and want to know more about the changes to employer sponsorship, please book a consultation at MY VISA ONLINE. As always we are HAPPY TO HELP.