Skilled migrants granted priority status and exemption from Australia’s COVID ban

With a focus on quickly rebounding from the economic effects of COVID-19 whilst balancing the needs of the Australian labour market the Department of Home Affairs announced a new Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (‘PMSOL’). The announcement follows the creation of a new Skilled Occupation List allowing skilled overseas workers in identified priority occupations to be exempt from Australia’s travel ban. Coinciding with the list are further changes to the labour market testing regime for sponsored workers.  

The Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List identify 17 occupations across healthcare, construction and tech that are expected to support Australia’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Occupations on the PMSOL include:  

  • General Practitioner
  • Chief Executive or Managing Director
  • Construction Project Manager
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Developer Programme
  • Software Engineer
  • Maintenance Planner
  • Resident Medical Officer
  • Psychiatrist
  • Midwife
  • Medical Practitioners (not elsewhere classified)
  • Registered Nurse - Aged Care, Critical Care and Emergency, Medical, Mental health, Perioperative, not elsewhere classified

The List was developed through consultation by the National Skills Commission and Commonwealth departments and will be reviewed regularly. 

Effect of the PMSOL:

Skilled workers will be afforded priority processing of their applications in order to facilitate their visa approval and immediate travel to Australia. Current visa applicants will be required to submit exemption requests to be considered however they will be eligible based on their nomination within the above occupations alone. Visa holders will still be subject to a 14-day quarantine on arrival in Australia.

Priority processing will be available for employer sponsored visa subclasses, including the following:

  • Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa (subclass 482)
  • Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa (subclass 494)
  • Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) visa (subclass 186)​
  • Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) visa (subclass 187)

The occupations predominantly focus on healthcare however they also include construction managers, CEO’s, engineering and technology professionals that are required to fill urgent skill requirements across Australia, assist with the creation of local jobs and rebuild of the economy from the COVID-19 recession. 

Occupations not on the priority list 

Applicants that are employed in occupations that are not identified on the PMSOL list, or are not applying within employer sponsored visa subclasses are still eligible to apply for travel exemptions by applying for a travel exemption through the critical skills or critical sector exemptions found here. Where eligible applicants will have their associated applications fast tracked.   

There is an expectation the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List will be expanded as the Government priorities evolve to the changing post pandemic landscape. Additional occupations may be added to the PMSOL as the government seeks to support Australia’s economic rebound. The occupations may include occupations already contained within the critical skills and sectors exemptions with further announcements to coincide with the budget announcements in early October.

Finally, Robert Walters has identified select occupations that are closely associated to the PMSOL occupation categories receiving priority allocation and processing. The occupations are closely related to identified occupations and contained within the same occupational unit groups.   

Update to Labour Market Testing Requirement

The Department has responded to the significant impact of the pandemic on the Australian labour market by implementing additional requirements to the labour market testing requirements for the subclass 482 Temporary Skills Shortage (‘TSS’) visa and subclass 494 Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa.

From the 1st October 2020 all nominations made under the above visa subclasses must be accompanied by three job advertisements, one of which must be placed on the Australian Government Job site JobActive. Job advertisements will need to be placed for a minimum of 28 days and include:

  • name of the employer or recruiter placing the advertisement
  • title, or a description, of the position
  • skills or experience required
  • salary (if the annual earnings for the position will be less than $96,000 excl. super)

Exemptions to Labour Market Testing that apply to Intra-company transferees, high income earners or where the obligation would conflict with an International Trade Obligation will continue to apply where applicants are otherwise exempt.

Implications of Enhancement Measures

The addition of a third advertisement to the Labour Market Testing requirement aims to increase the evidentiary burden on employer sponsors through the Government’s own job platform. The platform may be used in the future to identify potential program integrity concerns and detect or inform non-compliance activities through data matching with other Government agencies.

In addition to changes to the temporary visa programs the Department has advised Migration Agents they will shortly be changing existing employer sponsored permanent residence applications to require Labour Market Testing to be advertised on JobActive before seeking to nominate the applicant for an employer sponsored permanent residence visa (subclass 186 or 187) in order to verify there is a genuine need for the overseas worker to permanently fill the position.

Accompanying this expectation is additional scrutiny expected for employer sponsored permanent residence applications. Consequences in relation to Australian workers employed by the business in similar occupations will be scrutinised including:

  • retrenchments occurring in the previous 12 months
  • reductions of hours worked during the previous 12 months
  • reduction in pay and conditions within the previous 12 months
  • employment of a temporary visa holder on conditions less favorable than Australians
  • recruitment of temporary visa holders beyond the ordinary scope of the business

Exemption criteria, options for priority travel and Labour Market Testing requirements remain fluid. Due to frequent changes during Australia’s pandemic response it is important that you keep abreast of changes in policy and requirements as they apply to you. Join our Webinar where we discuss these matters and how individuals and organisations can respond here.

Legal Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is general in nature and whilst all care is taken, the information is subject to change without notice. This article is not intended to provide legal advice and the application and impact of laws can vary widely based on the specific facts involved.