Australia’s New Visa Landscape for HR and Mobility Professionals

The Australian government is in the throes of significant immigration reform informed by its new migration strategy. Much of these changes are set to be implemented over the course of this year. They have the potential to impact all sectors of the working landscape, particularly those in mobility management.

With aims of addressing critical skill shortages and ‘permanent temporariness’, as well as augmenting worker mobility, the visa reforms require a thorough understanding for effective talent management.

What follows is an in-depth look at some of the most important changes, shedding light on the new visa categories and modifications aimed at streamlining the immigration process. This includes expert insights about what they mean for those in assignment management from Christina Lien, a solicitor at Visa Executive.

Australia’s New Visa Landscape for HR and Mobility Professionals

An overview of upcoming immigration reforms

One of the major aims of the government’s new migration strategy is to gradually reduce immigration numbers – from a peak of approximately 510,000 in 2022-23 to 250,000 in 2024-2025. Much of this strategy is focused on encouraging permanent migration over temporary.

Working in mobility management, you’re likely well aware of the convoluted nature of Australia’s immigration program policy! As it would be a supreme task to cover the entire raft of proposed changes, we’ll focus on the ones that are the most relevant for those working in staff relocation and destination services.

Christina Lien feels the reforms hold much promise for the assignment management sector, particularly to address skills needs and enhance worker mobility. She says the highlight of the changes is the new Skills in Demand visa that’s set to replace the TSS (Subclass 482) with a three tiered system. Importantly, it makes for a clearer pathway to permanent residency.

“This is a long overdue change. Business, industry and employees were wanting better pathways for permanent residency as it is a good attraction and retention tool for top talent.”

She says, “The key advantage is that there will no longer be a reliance on skilled occupation lists for high income professionals, with the program targeting applicants at different skill levels in various industries,” she says.

Other changes include:

  • Small tweaks to the Working Holiday Maker visa
  • The new MATES scheme for Indian nationals
  • A proposed Talent and Innovation visa focused on high-net-worth migrants
  • Modifications to Labour Market Agreement requirements
  • Changes to visa processing times
  • Adjustments to the Temporary Graduate visa
  • New visa program for Pacific Islanders

While a small portion of the reforms have taken place, most are expected to be rolled out in the second half of 2024.

Christina feels these changes are ‘good in theory’, but it’s still very much a case of ‘wait and see’ to see how it plays out in practically.

“This space is never static. The constant changes means shifting the goal posts for many working in the mobility environment, and for employers wanting to plan for the next two to four years.”

Let’s now take a deeper look at each of the reforms.

New skills in demand visa

  • Replaces Temporary Skill Shortage (subclass 482) Visa
  • The first two pathways due for implementation late 2024
  • The third pathway undergoing consultation mid-2024

This new four-year employer-sponsored visa is the biggest reform, giving temporary skilled workers a pathway to permanent residency. It comprises three pathways:

Specialist Skills pathway

  • Focus on highly skilled migrants
  • Must be earning at least $135,000
  • Any occupation except trade workers, labourers, and machinery operators and drivers
  • 3,000 places annually
  • Median 7 day processing time

Core Skills pathway

  • Focus on the majority of temporary skilled migrants
  • Must meet Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold of $70,000
  • Job must be listed on a new Core Skills Occupation List (yet to be defined)
  • Trade workers, labourers, and machinery operators and drivers included
  • Median 21 day processing time

Essential Skills Pathway

  • Focus on lower paid workers with essential skills
  • Likely to be sector-specific and capped
  • Will have stronger regulation and minimum standards
  • More employer compliance and monitoring
  • Likely represents a move away from the use of labour agreements

There are some further overarching features of the Skills in Demand visa that are due to be rolled out. They are:

  • Any period of employment with any approved employer counts towards permanent residency.
  • If workers cease working with a sponsor, they’ll have 180 days (up from 60) to find another sponsor. They can work during this period.
  • The government will explore a model for employers to pay trailing charges monthly or quarterly to encourage new employers to offer sponsorship, replacing the lump sum upfront SAF Levy currently in place.
  • A public register of approved sponsors will be developed to assist workers needing a new sponsor.


Working holiday maker visa

From February this year, those on a Working Holiday visa (WHV) can now include paid or volunteer natural disaster recovery work for subsequent visa applications. Previously, those who had a WHV were only eligible to apply for a second or third if the work was in flood or bushfire affected areas. This has now been extended to other natural disasters, such as cyclones or storm surges.

There’s also a new reciprocal visa arrangement between Australia and the Philippines. It allows up to 200 young Filipinos and Australians each year to enjoy a 12-month holiday in each other’s country, one that can involve short-term work and study.

While the changes in this space are minimal, Christina expects there’ll be further amendments to WHV workplace conditions.

“Unfortunately, the concessions to the work limitations can become confusing at times. It’s always best to check with your mobility management specialist before employing a WHV holder.”

Australia’s New Visa Landscape for HR and Mobility Professionals

Mobility Arrangement for Talented Early Professionals Scheme (MATES)

The MATES scheme was established mid-last year under Australia and India’s new Migration and Mobility Partnership Arrangement. It enables the temporary mobility of Indian university graduates and early career professionals from eligible fields, including renewable energy, mining, engineering, information and communication technology, AI, financial technology and agricultural technology. They must be aged under 31 at the time of application.

There will be a total of 3,000 visas with successful applicants having 12 months to make their first entry into Australia. They can stay here for up to 24 months from the date of first entry, and multiple entries are allowed. Interestingly, visa holders can extend their stay by applying for another visa for temporary or permanent residence, provided they meet all eligibility requirements.

Applications open in late 2024.

Talent and Innovation visa

The government is looking to introduce a new Talent and Innovation visa to replace the Business Innovation and Investment Program, with consultations scheduled for mid-2024.

It’s all about attracting small numbers of highly talented migrants to Australia, placing greater emphasis on skills crucial for our future in fields such as technology, science and advanced manufacturing.

Christina explains, “The advantage of this is that it seeks to entice a new generation of entrepreneurs to settle here immediately. As a country, we need to encourage a culture of innovation, research and development. For example, we’re a world leader in some areas of agri-tech. There’s very real potential for it to become a $40 billion annual contributor to our economy, provided it’s well supported by good policy, collaboration and investment.”

Labour market testing

There’s been some really encouraging developments for employers around Labour Market Testing (LMA).

The first is removing the requirement to advertise on Workforce Australia. The next is the intention to reduce the need to apply for roles on three advertising platforms to instead two, as well as allowing them to be on free sites. The LMT advertising period also increases from four to six months providing, with some indications the LMT may even be gradually phased out. The timeframe for discussions around this is late 2024.

Christina says, “This makes it easier to urgently bring in skilled foreign workers. Employers and mobility professionals are heartened by this, as they feel that at the very least, the government is listening to their concerns about LMT being an impediment to worker mobility.”

Visa processing times

In mid-December last year, a new ministerial direction was put into place giving visa processing for regional Australia the highest priority. It applies to the:

  1. TSS visa (subclass 482)
  2. Employer Nomination Scheme (subclass 186)
  3. Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa (subclass 494)

This includes a skilled visa processing priority.

“Regions are really struggling to retain employer-sponsored workers, so it’s a good thing that these areas are prioritised,” Christina says.

The government’s migration strategy also states a commitment to evaluating and improving the role of Designated Area Migration Agreements (DAMAs), a process that is criticised as being too complex and slow.

“The DAMA is an instrument where the region has specifically negotiated a Labour Agreement for various occupations with concessions around skill level, age, English proficiency and salary. It differs because the skill level of some of the occupations is quite low, so can’t be sponsored on a standard TSS (Subclass 482) visa,” Christina says.

“The DAMA also allows for applicants who are over the age threshold to apply for permanent residency after three years. For example, someone who has skills but is over the age of 35 can possibly be sponsored under DAMAs, which would lead to permanent residency,” Christina explains.

“While the Department emphasises the use of DAMAs, the trouble is there aren’t enough covering areas in need. Hopefully their commitment to evaluating this area sees this addressed.”

Australia’s New Visa Landscape for HR and Mobility Professionals

Temporary graduate visa

The international graduate cohort is one valuable for the mobility profession for their ability to not only address immediate talent shortages, but as a future pipeline of potential long-term employees.

As such, the government is making a raft of changes to the Temporary Graduate visa to ensure it is targeted towards those with skills required by Australian employers. T

Temporary Gradate visa changes include:

  • reducing the length of stay
  • reducing the age eligibility from 50 to 35
  • preventing holders of the new graduate visa from moving back onto student visas
  • preventing those without skills in demand from remaining in Australia
    increasing English language levels from 6.0 to 6.5.

Pacific engagement visa

The new Pacific Engagement visa (PEV) will offer up to 3,000 nationals from Pacific countries and Timor Leste the chance to migrate to Australia each year as permanent residents. It will be through a ballot process.

If successful, they’ll need to satisfy criteria such as having a job in Australia. It’s set to start this year once the legislation is approved.

“We need a diverse pool of talent for the diverse industries that make up our economy. Employers can and should always look for strategies to complement their existing talent pool. Whether PEV cohort works for them is a question an employer, with the help of their trusted HR mobility partner, must make.”e

Further immigration support

Here at Grace, we have a team of dedicated corporate mobility management specialists to help our clients navigate the tricky terrain of immigrating to Australia on employer-sponsored visas. We partner with Visa Executive, a boutique firm of registered migration agents. They support us with expert advice to inform our immigration offering for seamless recruitment.

If you need help in this important area of talent acquisition and immigration, please get in touch for more information.


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