Irish visas

Many would be emigrants caught in visa limbo

Many Irish workers have been left in visa limbo.

Many Irish workers have been left in visa limbo.

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.

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
— Department of Home Affairs

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of Home Affairs told The Irish Echo: "The Department assesses all valid visa applications unless the application is withdrawn.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 Refunds are only available in limited circumstances and does not include circumstances where an applicant has withdrawn their application due to change of mind."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.

Changes to the visa rules have made it more difficult for many skilled workers.

Changes to the visa rules have made it more difficult for many skilled workers.

"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.

Working holidays can now stretch to three years

Regional farm work is key to extending your working holiday visa.

Regional farm work is key to extending your working holiday visa.

The Australian Government has announced changes to the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visa which will allow backpackers to stay in the country for up to three years.

The changes, which came into force on November 5, come on the back of a relaxation of the age limits for Irish and Canadian WHM applicants who are now eligible up to the age of 35.

The more recent changes to the WHM visa program include:

• Increasing the period in which subclass 417 and 462 visa holders can stay with the same agricultural (plant and animal cultivation) employer, from 6 to 12 months and

• The option of a third-year for subclass 417 and 462 visa holders who, after July 1, 2019, undertake six months of specified work in a specified regional area during their second year.

According to the Australian government, the changes have been introduced to “provide farmers with immediate access to workers in key parts of regional Australia”.

Employers will be able to retain trained and experienced employees doing agricultural work for up to twelve months, rather than the previous six.

This work includes harvesting and/or packing of fruit and vegetables; pruning or trimming vines and trees; crop work; processing of plant products; maintaining farm animals as well as shearing, butchery, packing and tanning work.

Currently, WHMs can remain in the country for up to two years on that visa.

Australia wants more immigrants to go bush

Most immigrants, including the vast majority of Irish nationals, settle in the larger cities.

Most immigrants, including the vast majority of Irish nationals, settle in the larger cities.

The Australian government is considering banning some immigrants from settling in big cities.

Minister for cities, urban infrastructure and population Alan Tudge said his government wants to cut the number of immigrants moving to Sydney and Melbourne in a bid to reduce congestion in Australia's two biggest cities.

Mr Tudge said placing conditions on visas that force immigrants to stay in less popular centres for several years would increase the likelihood that they would settle in those places permanently.

"Nearly every visa has conditions attached to it, so it wouldn't be unusual to have a geographic attachment to a particular visa," Mr Tudge told the ABC.

Australia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, but has long had a high proportion of its population - currently 25 million people - living in cities. Around two in every five Australians live in Sydney and Melbourne alone.

The government is considering banning immigrants from settling in Sydney and Melbourne for five years after they arrive in the country.

Australia has the fastest population growth of any advanced Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development country other than Canada, growing 1.6 per cent a year.

But the population of Melbourne grew last year by 2.7 per cent, while the population of the south-east corner of Queensland state around Brisbane and the Gold Coast grew by 2.3 per cent, and Sydney grew by 2.1 per cent.

The main driver of population growth in Sydney and Melbourne was overseas migration, with 87 per cent of skilled migrants to Australia and almost all refugees gravitating to those cities.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants a cut to visa numbers.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants a cut to visa numbers.

Premier of NSW Gladys Berejiklian, the daughter of Armenian immigrants, said that she believed Sydney needed “a breather” from high immigration numbers.

“It’s time to tap the brakes and take a breather on immigration levels to this state. We should return to Howard-era immigration levels in NSW,” she said.

“I’m the daughter of proud immigrants myself, but it’s clear that successive federal governments have allowed the rate of immigration to NSW to balloon out of control.”

Growth in the Brisbane-Gold Coast region reflected higher levels of population shift within Australia and a higher birthrate.

Mr Tudge said some categories of immigrants would be exempt from geographic blocks.

Migrants who were sponsored by employers - which is the visa pathway for many Irish - would be able to work where employers need them, and those on family reunion visas - typically a foreigner marrying an Australian - would also be free to live where they chose.

Sponsored employees make up 25 per cent of Australia's immigrant intake and family reunion visas make up 30 per cent.

Marion Terrill, an expert on cities and transport from the Melbourne-based Grattan Institute think tank, said governments need to improve infrastructure in major cities rather than curb population growth.

"People are voting with their feet, they want to be in cities and so I think the job for government is to ensure that cities work and that people can get around rather than to try to get people to go where they don't want to go," Ms Terrill said.

Melissa Montero, an immigrant advocate and chief executive of the Sydney-based community migrant resource centre, said immigrants need social support, language services as well as jobs to successfully resettle.

Carla Wilshire, another immigrant advocate and chief executive of Migrant Council Australia in Canberra, suggested the government should invest in services outside Sydney and Melbourne to make smaller towns more attractive to immigrants.

Mark Morey, secretary of Unions NSW, which represents trade unions in New South Wales state, said the government's plan would leave immigrants isolated, with fewer job options and with less pay than they could hope for in big cities.