Changes to Australian visas have people waiting for their 457 visa application to be processed worried that they could not only not be granted leave to stay in Australia but they could also lose the money they spent on their applications.
When the rules changed, many occupations were removed or downgraded and those who were eligible for a four year visa and to apply for permanent residency can now only get two years. A 457 application should take 5-10 months but applications have been taking longer to process since the changes were announced.
Australia scrapped its skilled 457 visa programme last year. The programme had allowed tens of thousands of Irish workers to enter the country legally since 1996. The visa changes were announced in 2017 by then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull who said he wanted “to put Australians first.”
Turnbull alleged the 457 visa was being misused by employers to import cheaper workers and not to fill genuine skill shortages.
The 457 visa was replaced with the Temporary Skill Shortage Visa (TSS) 482 but the list of occupations that qualify for the 482, is significantly reduced. The new visas has been described as limited, expensive and with an intimidating amount of paper work.
People can apply for a refund of their visa fees but there are no guarantees. The employer's nomination fee of $330 is not refundable.
A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs told The Irish Echo: "The Department assesses all valid visa applications unless the application is withdrawn. For individuals who have a 457 application in progress with the department, it is open to them to wait until a decision is made on their application. Refunds are only available in limited circumstances and does not include circumstances where an applicant has withdrawn their application due to change of mind."
The people affected by the situation are often in Australia on bridging visas. They may no longer be entitled to a four year visa. If they have to apply for a 482 visa, they may not be entitled to work rights under any new bridging visa while they wait for the application to be processed.
The Home Affairs Spokesperson continued: "The bridging visa held in association with a 482 visa application will remain valid until the 482 visa application is finalised. Applicants holding a bridging visa with no work rights may apply for permission to work. Each request is assessed on a case by case basis."
People who applied for 457 visas before 18th April 2017, when the new rules were announced by Malcolm Turnbull, were to be protected by the old rules and still avail of permanent residency applications, shorter temporary transition periods before applying for permanent residency and the higher age bracket. But these may not apply if they have to make a new application for a 482.
The Department fo Home Affairs says: "Transitional arrangements were put in place in March 2018, in relation to certain requirements for people who held or applied for a subclass 457 visa before 18 April 2017.
"People who held a 457 visa before March 2018 and meet the various requirements, including being nominated in an eligible occupation, can apply for permanent residence through the Direct Entry (DE) stream of the subclass 186 or 187 visa.
"People who held a subclass 457 visa on 18 April 2017, or had applied for a subclass 457 visa on 18 April 2017 that was subsequently granted, are able to access certain existing provisions under the Temporary Residence Transition (TRT) stream.
"Eligible overseas workers will need to lodge an application for permanent residence within four years, by March 2022."
Thousands of Irish availed of the 457 following the economic crash ten years ago.
The new visa has also limited availability and is only obtainable as a short-term visa, for a maximum two years, or a medium-term visa up to four years.
Brian (not his real name) is one of those caught in an immigration no-man’s land.
He came to Australia with his wife and two children. He has been on a 457 since 2014 as a carpenter. His first employer nominated him for permanent residence. Brian spent $7,000+ agents' fees on the permanent residence application. Then his employer went out of business before the PR was granted. As a result, Brian’s PR visa was not granted. He lost the $7,000+ and had to start again.
Brian then had to move his 457 visa to a new employer, but his visa only had a few months left so he had to then apply for a new 457 visa. He paid new 457 fees of $2,700. He applied for his second 457 visa in December 2017. The employer’s part was granted in October 2017 so expired in October 2018. Brian’s second 457 visa cannot now be granted.
Brian will be forced to re-apply for a 482 visa. The 482 visa costs are more than double the fees he paid for the 457 visas. 482 visa fees will be $5,500.
Brian's employer lost $330 on the first application, but will now be forced to pay the new Skilling Australians Fund (SAF) levy of $7,200 to lodge the new nomination. A huge cost that will surely deter a lot of employers from even agreeing to proceed.
It was also reported in October that more than 630 Irish people had been deported from Australia over the last two years according to figures released by the Australian Department of Home Affairs.
Overstaying a visa, having a visa cancelled or invalid visas were the most common reasons for their deportation.