The simple answer is, of course, a visa. But that is where simplicity ends. The Australian visa system is notoriously complicated, and it changes frequently. Although it is possible to apply for a visa on your own through the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, many people choose to seek the assistance of an attorney or a migration agent.

That said, some basic information about visa categories, recent changes and likely future changes can do a lot to reduce the confusion and speed you on your way.

Skilled migrant visas

There are lots of different kinds of visas suitable for different kinds of travellers and migrants – tourists, partners and spouses, parents, students on a working holiday – but migrants coming to Australia to work have a category of their own. As of March 2018, this is known as the Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa. It has much in common with the old 457 visa, but is not identical.

As a threshold matter, as an applicant for a TSS visa, you must be able to show that you are under 45, of good character (including a police report) and in good health. You must also demonstrate proficiency in English and adequate skill in the job category for which you are applying. Most importantly, that job category must have been identified by the Australian government as one for which Australian workers are in short supply. Those categories change frequently.

Medium term or short term?

Depending on the job category, you may be eligible for either a Short-Term TSS visa, which is good for up to two years or a Medium-Term TSS visa, which is good for up to four years. The job categories on the Medium-Term list include occupations such as engineers, veterinarians, doctors and nurses. In some categories only certain subspecialties are included.

The Short-Term category is likely to include cooks, restaurant managers and management consultants. Some jobs, like hair and beauty salon managers fall on neither list. Furthermore, every list (or non-list) is fluid because it depends on the availability of Australian workers.

Once you have been granted a visa, however, rest assured that your classification will not change until the visa expires.

Into the pool

Skilled visa applications that qualify as either the Short-Term or Medium-Term go into an applicant pool. The government then selects people to consider. It’s the luck of the draw. Thereafter, even if you are selected, the process may take up to a year.

What about permanent residency or citizenship?

If you have a Short-Term two-year visa, you may renew it only once. Thereafter, you may have to apply in a completely different category of visa, such as a spouse or partner. The Short-Term TSS visa does not provide a pathway to permanent residency.

The Medium-Term TSS visa does provide an avenue to permanent residency, as do several other visa programs including family and spouse categories.  Permanent residency provides a way to citizenship, but there are many steps and much time in between.

The controversy

The 2017 changes to the old 457 visa program, including the division of jobs into short-term and medium-term categories caused considerable uproar, especially on the part of certain skilled migrants, like university professors who, because they were eligible for only the Short-Term program, found that they had lost their shot at permanent residency.  More list shifting ensued.

By the time the old 457 program was recast as the TSS visa program a year later in 2018, many of those in charge of rolling out the new program found themselves at a loss to explain how, why or when eligible occupations moved between short and long-term lists. It was not an auspicious beginning.

In sum, the skilled migrant visa program for those wishing to work in Australia or those wishing to hire migrants is not impossible. But it is undeniably complex.

Visa applicants and holders, prospective applicants, businesses sponsoring skilled migrants and industries in which migrants play an important role must all be concerned about the details of the skilled migrant visa program. The specialist attorneys at Owen Hodge Lawyers would be happy to help you parse through the process to make an application or to plan for your workforce needs in the future. Please call us to schedule a consultation at 1 800 770 780.