Anticipating changes: Australia’s visa program in 2024

By Kristopher Kunasingam

The visa landscape in Australia underwent significant shifts in 2023 under the Labor government, with more changes set to come into effect this year.

Some of the key changes implemented last year include:

  • the reintroduction of work restrictions for student visa holders, generally set at 48 hours a fortnight during the semester;
  • the reintroduction of condition 8547 for working holiday visa holders, meaning they can only work at a single location for a maximum of six months;
  • increasing the TSMIT rate, which now requires employers to offer a minimum of A$70,000 plus superannuation for most sponsorship programs (eg 482, 494 and 186 visas);
  • streamlining the Labour Market Testing requirements. Where employers were previously required to attempt testing the labour market on three recruitment platforms (including one on the government platform, Workforce), this has been reduced to two; and
  • allowing all 482 visa holders to be sponsored for permanent residency two years after working on their 482 visa, regardless of the type of occupation they hold. This opens the pathway for those previously on the short-term list to be sponsored for permanent residency, with requirements around the age, English language, character and health continuing to apply.

Following these changes, the government has committed to several visa reforms in 2024.

The 482 Temporary Skill Shortage program is set to be replaced with the “Skills in Demand” visa. This change is anticipated to happen late-2024. The “Skills in Demand” program will have three streams:

  1. Specialist Skills Pathway: this will apply to applicants earning above A$135,000. This cohort will have priority processing (aim is seven days) but will be limited to 3,000 positions a year;
  2. Core Skills Pathway: applicants earning between A$70,000 – A$135,000 will fall here which we think will be the majority of applicants. The aim is to have processing fall to 21 days; and
  3. Essentials Skills Pathway: this pathway will apply to aged and disability care related workers with salaries under A$70,000. Processing is also anticipated to be 21 days.

The government has indicated it plans on indexing the salary to the average weekly ordinary time earnings. In our view, the ability to meet the committed 21-day timeframe will involve having more officers to process these visas.

There have also been changes announced to the ability to remain in Australia after employment ends. Currently, sponsored employees are only allowed to remain up to 60 days after employment ends, but the aim is to increase this to 180 days.

The government also plans on creating a register of sponsored visa holders who have ceased their employment so that new employers are able to locate skilled workers quickly. Our view is this program should be carefully managed, as unscrupulous employers may take advantage of a persons’ visa status, offering them a lower salary just so that person remains compliant with their visa conditions, especially if they are getting close to the 180-day mark.

The government has also indicated changes in how the Skilling Australia Fund is modelled. Employers currently pay an upfront fee between A$1,200 – A$1,800 each year, multiplied by the number of years they wish to sponsor a person. The new system aims to have a trailing charge, implying either monthly or quarterly payments by sponsors.

On the skilled visa front (subclass 189, 190, 491), the government wants to create a new analysis-based points test system. Details are lacking now, but the aim is to provide a faster pathway to permanent residency for international student graduates who are already working in a skilled role compared to those who are not.

On the student visa front, the government plans on increasing the English language requirement and improving the quality of the education experience in Australia. High risk education providers will face additional scrutiny. When students switch courses, the government intends to scrutinise the reasons behind it. This should result in student visa holders finding it more difficult to switch courses they have committed to. Currently, there is a practice of students enrolling in cheaper courses once they arrive in Australia, and the government is ensuring this practice does not happen.

For the temporary graduate visa (currently known as the 485 visa), the government plans on reducing the age restriction from 50 to 35. Processing is anticipated to be 21 days and the government intends on reforming the points test for the skilled visa to give graduates working in skilled roles a faster pathway to permanent residency. This should benefit those who manage to secure roles in the field they have graduated in.

We will continue to monitor and bring updates to you as they appear throughout the year.


Kristopher Kunasingam

Kristopher leads the firm's migration practice. He specialises in employment-related migration to Australia.

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