2024 is expected to be an exciting year for migration with the ongoing review and implementation of the Migration Strategy. We summarise some of the recent announcements that will either impact or benefit employers.

Working holiday makers

From 1 January 2024, the six-month work limitation is back in force. Unless an automatic exemption applies, working holiday makers cannot continue working for the same employer for more than six months.

A working holiday maker can work for the same employer for more than six months without obtaining written permission if they work:

  • in different locations and work in any one location does not exceed six months
  • in plant and animal cultivation anywhere in Australia
  • in certain industries, including aged care and disability services, fishing and pearling, tree farming and felling, construction and mining, in northern Australia only
  • natural disaster recovery work
  • in critical sectors, including agriculture, food processing, health, aged and disability care and childcare, anywhere in Australia
  • in the critical sector of tourism and hospitality anywhere in Australia.

Stronger protections for foreign workers

The Migration Amendment (Strengthening Employer Compliance) Bill became legislation this month and will come into effect on 1 July 2024. The new law aims to improve employer compliance and protect temporary migrant workers from exploitation. The Migration Act 1958 will be amended to:

  • establish criminal offences and associated civil penalty provisions for a person who unduly influences, pressures or coerces a non-citizen to breach a work-related condition of their visa or accept an exploitative work arrangement to meet a work-related condition of their visa
  • enable the minister to prohibit certain employers from employing any additional non-citizens and introduce associated offence and civil penalty provisions
  • require the minister to publish information about a prohibited employer
  • increase and align the maximum criminal and civil penalties for current and proposed work-related and employer-sponsored related breaches
  • trigger the enforceable undertaking provisions in the Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Act 2014
  • provide enforceable compliance notices where an officer suspects a contravention of a work or sponsorship-related offence or related provision
  • remove the criminal offence of breaching a work-related visa condition and insert an avoidance of doubt clause for remaining work-related offence provisions
  • enable the Migration Regulations 1994 to prescribe matters the minister may, must or must not take into account when considering the exercise of the power to cancel visas on certain grounds.

For more information, see our previous article on measures to protect Australia's migrant workforce.

Australia and India become MATES

The Australian Government has announced the introduction of a Mobility Arrangement for Talented Early-professionals Scheme (MATES) with India. MATES gives Indian university graduates and early career professionals under the age of 30 the opportunity to live and work in Australia for up to two years to gain valuable work experience in their areas of expertise. The program will have 3,000 primary places available per program year.

Eligible fields for this program include renewable energy, mining, engineering, information and communication technology, artificial intelligence, financial technology, and agricultural technology.

The Government has yet to announce a commencement date.

Innovation and Early Careers Skills Exchange Pilot

Similar to the MATES program, the Innovation and Early Careers Skills Exchange Pilot is a temporary visa for UK citizens. UK citizens can either apply for the Early Careers Skill stream which will allow participants to undertake a short-term placement, secondment or intra-corporate transfer for up to one year in Australia or the Innovation stream which allows highly skilled and experienced participants, with a demonstrated contribution to innovation, to undertake opportunities for up to three years in Australia.

There are 1,000 places available in the first year and 2,000 in the second year.

Applications for both streams will close on 30 April 2024. Contact us here if you would like more information about this program.

Lengthy skills assessment delays

Trades Recognition Australia (TRA) is reporting ongoing processing delays for skills assessment applications, with applications for Migration Skills Assessment and Migration Points Advice taking longer than 120 days (four months).

TRA's Job Ready Program is also experiencing delays. As at February 2024, the average processing times from online submission date are:

  • 7 months for Job Ready Employment Application
  • 5 months for Job Ready Workplace Assessment
  • 1.5 months for Job Ready Final Assessment
  • 2.5 months for general document processing.

Skills assessments are required for the Subclass 494 Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa and the Subclass 186 Employer Nomination Scheme visa in the Direct Entry Stream. Employers sponsoring trade workers for either of these visas need to be aware of the processing delays and monitor visa expiry dates.

This publication does not deal with every important topic or change in law and is not intended to be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other advice that may be relevant to the reader's specific circumstances. If you have found this publication of interest and would like to know more or wish to obtain legal advice relevant to your circumstances please contact one of the named individuals listed.