2014-2015 Migration Program is Announced – Implications for Australian businesses and Skilled Migration
By Blaise Alexander, Solicitor and Registered Migration Agent and Immigration Lawyer, Lovegrove Smith and Cotton
On 13 May 2014 the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the Honourable Scott Morrison MP, announced the Migration Programme for 2014-2015 will be set at 190,000 places.
The places for the skilled migration stream is set at 128,550, and the programme overall strongly supports the government’s ongoing shift towards employer sponsored skilled migration.
Some places have been moved from independent skilled migration stream to employer sponsored migration. This is in line with a continued focus on building economic growth, encouraging migrants to secure employment prior to arriving in Australia, and improving the process for Australian businesses to access foreign skilled labour more quickly and effectively where there is a shortage in the Australian labour market.
Recent changes to the Temporary (Skilled) visa
On 1 July 2012 previous employer sponsored visa classes were replaced with two nominated subclass schemes:
- the Employer Nomination (Class EN) Employer Nomination Scheme (subclass 186) and
- the Regional Employer Nomination (Class RN) Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (subclass 187).
Within each of these visa subclasses there are three streams:
- Temporary Residence Transition for 457 visa holders who have worked for at least two years and are to be offered a permanent job in that position;
- Direct Entry for non-457 visa holders or for those applying directly from outside Australia;
- Agreement stream for applicants being sponsored by an employer through a labour or regional migration agreement.
Temporary Work (skilled) (subclass 457) visa
There has been significant growth of temporary skilled migration to Australia over the past decade. Skilled business visas are a temporary work visa issued for a period of four years. However, many temporary visa holders go on to achieve permanent residency status. Recent changes to the legislation are in response to labour market concerns to encourage more demand-driven migration. Migration reforms implemented 1 January 2009 gave priority processing to sponsored skilled migrants with employment arrangements before their arrival in Australia, and away from the trend of migrant arrivals without pre-arranged employment.
According to Department of Immigration and Border Protection figures, in 2010–11 almost nine out of ten people granted a permanent employer sponsored visa were people who had originally entered Australia on a Temporary subclass 457 visa. 
Priority processing also applied to skilled migrants in areas considered to be in critical shortage in Australia, such as medical, IT professionals, engineers and construction trade workers. Since these reforms were introduced the employer sponsored category of the skilled migration stream of the program has been steadily rising. The number of subclass 457 visa holders in Australia on 30
September 2013 totalled 196,450. Of these, primary subclass 457 visa holders totalled 110,280.  Primary 457 visa holders equate to almost one per cent of the total Australian labour force.
The 457 visa program allows eligible Australian employers to obtain skilled employees from overseas to fill a shortage of appropriate skilled labour in the domestic market. The visa is designed to respond to the demand in the domestic market for skilled labour, and as such there are no fixed limits on the number of visas available, although the approved occupations are subject to change. As such the visa is a useful avenue for workers and their families intending to transition to the Australian business market.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection Quarterly Report for March 2014 states the number of subclass 457 primary visa applications lodged in the March 2013-March 2014 year was 35,440, predominantly nominations for Professionals, Technicians, Trades workers and Managers. A significant proportion of applications were from India and the United Kingdom. Interestingly, China featured strongly in the permanent visa category. A possible explanation for these figures is the predominance of visitors from the UK on working holidays, increased recognition of the qualifications and skill levels of Indian nationals under new schemes, and the transition of Chinese nationals in temporary employment to permanent status.
On Tuesday 13 May 2014 the Honourable Scott Morrison MP stated:
“The Abbott Government is ensuring our migration programme matches the nation’s economic and skills needs while contributing to a cohesive and strong community”
“This Budget allows almost 68% of Australia’s migration places to skilled migration, and re-prioritises employer-sponsored visas”
“With the reprioritisation towards employer-sponsored visas, employers will be assisted in finding workers to fill vital positions where they have been unable to find local workers. This also protects Australian workers, who will have less direct competition from independent migrants who arrive without a guaranteed job”.
The expectation towards the future is for a continued focus on boosting Australia’s economy through the skilled migration program. For further information, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection publication Fact Sheet 20 outlines the full Migration Programme Planning Levels. 
 Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Population flows, Immigration aspects 2010–11 edition, at http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/statistics/popflows2010-11/pop-flows.pdf, p66, accessed 13 May
September 2013, at http://www.immi.gov.au/media/statistics/pdf/temp-entrants-newzealand-sep13.pdf,
pp11-12, accessed 13 May 2014.
 Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Subclass 457 Quarterly Report quarter ending at 31 March 2014, at http://www.immi.gov.au/media/statistics/pdf/457-quarterly-report-2014-03-31.pdf , accessed 13 May 2014.
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