BT&P

Visa Changes To Architecture & Design

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Architect? Designer? Technician? Looking to get sponsored? Yikes!

We can’t fault people for seeing Australia as a ‘hotspot’. Beaches, surf, and 30 degree blistering summer days aren’t the only draw cards.

When our consultants interview those looking to work in Oz for the first time, the reasons are vast. Lifestyle, a decent economy, multiculturalism, great healthcare, awesome landscapes, and a huge choice of living environments are just a handful of reasons to make the move.

Professionally, there’s plenty of reasons to be excited about the industry in Australia. There are some amazing projects happening in Sydney, such as the New Harbour Metro Crossing and more multi-res projects then you can poke a stick at. Down in Melbourne, there are projects such as the Melbourne Metro,  and proposed Crown Towers.

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James Packer’s Crown Resorts Towers Visualisation. Credit: FoodSlicer – Australian Financial Review

With so much to offer, the love affair with Down Under begins quickly. And like with all great romances, the burning questions begin: how can I stay longer? What can I do so I never have to leave? How can I extend my visa?!

This is how it was …

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Until recently, sponsorship for overseas workers within the architectural and interiors industry was relatively straightforward – you found a job, wowed everyone at the office with how amazing you were, asked to be sponsored, hoped that the company loved you back enough to accept, and then got started with jumping through all the required hoops – and then Bob’s your uncle – hello 457 Visa!

The 457 Temporary Work Visa would allow a person to work continuously for 4 years with your sponsored company. If you were to part ways at anytime, then you would need to find another company to sponsor you within 90 days and they would simply transfer your 457 visa over .

Another requirement for 457 Visas was that there were listed skilled occupations and disciplines – and in most instances architects, interior designers, and even architectural technicians landed on the list of skilled roles.

The reason why overseas workers saw the 457 Visa as the best thing since sliced bread was that it provided a transitional pathway to Permanent Residency (PR) in case you never wanted to leave!

This is how it is … (so far!)

Fast track to now, and things have changed: the Turnbull government announced a major overhaul earlier this year to the skilled labour lists, available Visas, charges and PR pathways.

However before we start the fear mongering, let’s break it down – what does this mean for the architectural, interiors, and design industry? Who will be affected? What can you do despite these changes?

Getting a visa? Not so easy…

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As recruitment consultants specialising in architecture and interior design, we’ve been fielding numerous enquiries from existing Visa holders and those wanting to get sponsored. From consulting with immigration and visa experts, in order to ensure people have the correct information, here is our understanding of what the recent changes mean thus far:

On April 19th, 2017, it was announced that the Medium and Long Term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL) has replaced the previous Skilled Occupation List (SOL); and the Short Term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) has replaced the previous Consolidated Sponsored Occupation List (CSOL).

Breaking it down:

Previously, a 457 visa was granted for a period of four years, however, since the changes came into effect on the19th of April 2017, applicants with an occupation on the STSOL will now only receive a two year visa, whilst those on the MLTSSL will receive a four year visa.

The 457 Visa covered 651 occupations, however the changes now mean that some of these occupations have been removed or have different requirements.  These changes impact interior designers and architectural draftspeople.

Those who are eligible for the four year Visa will eventually qualify for permanent residency – but it will be tougher due to minimum salary enforcement and three years needed, as opposed to being employed for two years with your sponsoring employer whilst holding the 457 visa and then applying.

For those eligible for the two year Visa, it can be renewed – but only once – and through discussions with immigration experts and from the media we can see that there is no current pathway to permanent residency.

Expert advice is a must …

We went and spoke to Tanya Tekuleka and Michelle Le’Fevre from First Class Migration Australia in Sydney. They said that:

“Any of the new 457 visa applicants for interior design or architectural draftsperson, who are on the Short Term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL), will only receive the two-year visa, with no pathway to residency via their employer unless they can meet the direct entry requirements prior to March 2018.

“While you can work in Australia on the two-year visa, and then renew it onshore for a second two-year visa to extend your stay for up to four years, this will not meet the three year requirement for permanent residency based on immigration regulation technicalities.”

Specifically, Tanya said that:

“However, depending on an applicant’s personal attributes, they may be able to qualify under the skilled migration program, but each of these cases would need to be assessed on an individual basis.

Architects remaining on the Medium and Long Term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL), will receive the four-year visa and therefore have an optional employer sponsored permanent residency visa pathway.”

Both Tanya and Michelle discussed that as the new visa changes do not come into effect until March 2018, the full details of the exact process is yet to emerge. This lends itself to a high degree of uncertainty amongst those who are seeking further sponsorship or permanent residency in the future.

New changes, new rules …

However, it isn’t just changes to the skilled labour and occupation lists, there will now be an additional cost commencing March 2018  for Employers who are considering sponsoring or ‘ nominating a worker’; a contribution to the Skilling Australians Fund, payable in full at the time the worker is nominated for the two-year and four-year Visas

The additional costs is a move by the government to prioritise apprenticeships and traineeships in occupations in high demand that currently rely on skilled migration, or with future growth potential.

In addition employers will need to demonstrate they are making every effort to employ Australians within their businesses.

The fund, while important for ensuring the future domestic workforce is able to accommodate future demand and growth, acts as a complement to the new restrictions on overseas workers.

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Tanya and Michelle from First Class Migration confirmed with us the following costs:

  • $1200 per year or part year for small businesses (those with annual turnover of less than $10 million)
  • $1800 per year or part year for business with an annual turnover of over $10million.
  • For those on existing 457 Visas these changes do not apply unless they transfer the visa to a new employer, but with these new rules, many others will be impacted

They advise to be proactive about these changes and not to wait until March 2018. Seeking out professional advice early could make the difference between leaving or staying.

Michelle Le’Fevere, the Director at First Class Migration, said that:

“Being proactive is key – we are working on getting the word out to companies and their employees that they need to be aware of these changes and reliably informed, so they are able to take the best course of action.

“At the moment, we’re working with many clients on a strategic level to assist them with existing sponsorships and contingency planning for the future.”

Additional changes

Additional changes proposed include a government update on the lists on a six month basis in consultation with the Department of Education and Training.

Peter Dutton, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection said,

“The occupation lists are designed to be dynamic. Revisions to the occupation lists are just one element of the Government’s reforms strengthening the integrity of Australia’s employer sponsored skilled migration programmes and raising the productivity of skilled migrants.”

Other changes will include:

  • mandatory criminal checks;
  • new English language requirements;
  • the maximum age requirement lowered to 45 years for permanent visa applicants – direct entry employer sponsored applicants saw the age reduced on 1 July 2017 to 45 years. Transitioning permanent resident applicants may be reduced in March 2018.

Will this affect the architecture and interior design industry?

On July 1, the government released a revised list of skilled occupations. At this stage we can’t see any changes that are relevant to architects, interior designers, or draftspeople.

But does that mean that the industry will not be affected?

That is almost as hard to answer as ‘how long is a piece of string?’. Until further details are released about the exact process there is still uncertainty regarding how these changes will affect our industry.

These changes to the 457 Visa certainly reflect a broader global trend towards rethinking and tightening immigration law which has also been observed in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Moving forward into the immediate future, we have to wait for the government to release more information about the exact process for applying for these new visas and what other pathways could be available for permanent residency.

So be proactive, think and plan ahead:

Here is a list of additional resources to help you stay informed:

Jacqueline Liddicoat

Managing Partner, BT&P

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