Changes to Australia’s skilled migration programme


The changes to Australia’s skilled migration programme, which came into effect on July 1, have received a mixed a response from government departments and migration agents, writes Sophie Loras

In July, the Australian government introduced stringent changes to its skilled visa programme. The aim – to put the country in a stronger position to select high-caliber entrepreneurs and investors into Australia.
The changes include reducing the 13 business migration visa categories into just three, including the newly introduced, Significant Investor Visa, which takes effect on November 24.
Australia’s Business Skills Program has, traditionally been a popular pathway for Chinese business owners, investors and senior executives to migrate to Australia with their family members. Reformed as the Business Innovation and
Investment Programme, it will offer 7,400 places for 2012-2013, up 200 places from the previous year.
And while a points system will reward migrants with English proficiency, no longer will applicants be required to meet a minimum level.
Changes also include a reduction in the amount of time the main visa applicant must spend in Australia (from two years to 160 days).
One of the more contentious aspects, is the decision to remove the option for the main applicant and business owner to send a spouse to Australia in their place.
There is also an increase in the amount of money migrants must now invest in Australia – and restrictions on how that money can be invested in Australia.
State and Territory governments will be responsible for nominating candidates in their region.
The response to the changes by industry has been mixed.
There is a feeling among some migration agents specializing in the Chinese market that the elimination of the option to send a spouse to Australia to manage a business over the two-year period will have a crippling effect on Chinese applications.
There is a concern that Australia could lose out to other key markets such as the US, Canada and Europe, where for some countries, the only requirement for migration is a financial investment into government approved projects or the purchase of property.
One agent estimates Australia could see a drop of 70 percent to 80 percent in applications to the skilled business programme now that business owners can no longer send a spouse to Australia in their place to manage the Australian business.
There is a belief by some agents that while the visa changes have been designed to attract high-calibre business owners and entrepreneurs, it will have the opposite effect due to its lack of flexibility.
“The 188 visa is a big problem for the big Chinese business owner who will not want to close their business in China for two years while going through the application process in Australia,” one agent told Australia China Connections.
“I think the Australian government should think about the changes in a long-term way. They think they will get more quality migrants coming to Australia but actually, the most successful business people are not going to give up their jobs in China to relocate to Australia,” the agent said.
Zeno Sworder, a senior consultant with Melbourne-based Hamilton Watts International Migration Services disagrees. He believes the new skilled migration business visas have been designed with the Chinese market in mind.
He says the changes make Australia more competitive with other countries and significant interest has been generated, in particular, towards the Significant Investor Visa, which comes into effect on November 24.
This visa will make it easier for migrants with limited English language skills and reduces the amount of time they must live in Australia.
“They [Chinese migrants] are looking very favourably at the changes including the reduced amount of time the main applicant has to spend in Australia – now only 160 days over four years and the possibility of opting out of the English requirement by paying an additional application fee,” said Mr Sworder.
“The Significant Investor Visa has traditionally required English and a period of time to stay in Australia, making us less competitive,” he said.
Mr Sworder said the stripping back of requirements for the points test for the significant visa has attracted a lot of attention from wealthy business people in China, who are looking at diversifying, “and that’s exactly the high net worth individual the Australian government wants to attract.”
Mr Sworder said in the past, the option to allow the spouse to replace the main applicant in Australia encouraged business people to deposit their families in Australia and then return to China, while the reduction to 160 days for the main applicant to live in Australia makes a business investment in Australia more realistic.
“I do think this is a real change to how the department has looked at immigration and down the track, if popular, perhaps the quota will increase.”
Currently, the government has provided for 7400 global places for its skilled business stream – an increase on 2011 of 200 places.
Under the former skilled migration system, it was common for provisional visa businesses to be in the fast food, café and restaurant sectors – making up almost half of all provisional visa businesses.
The new system clearly aims to change this pattern with both the Investor stream and the Business Innovation stream making provisions for applicants to prove they have a “genuine desire to own and maintain a management role in a business in Australia.”
No longer will new migrants be able to purchase a business from another migrant who has since completed the two-year requirements to manage any Australian business to achieve permanent residency in Australia.
Provisions for the 132, 188 and 888 visas clearly state that applicants of these visas not have acquired the ownership of their main business in Australia from a person who was an applicant for, or a holder of, a permanent Business Innovation and Investment visa (subclass 888), unless both applicants have a joint interest in the main business for at least one year before the lodgement is made.
The aim under the new reforms is to target migrants with a history of innovation and facilitate the entry of entrepreneurs who have sourced capital funding in Australia.
Says Mr Sworder: “It is a clever programme because the Australian government has more levers to control who comes to Australia.”
“From the information we have seen, the Significant Investor Visa has been very much designed to target high net individuals.” 

The New Skilled Migration Categories

The Business Talent visa (Subclass 132)
This permanent visa is intended for high-calibre business owners interested in owning a new or existing business in Australia. It has two streams.
The Significant Business History stream is for affluent owners or part owners of a business who want to have a major management role in a new or existing business in Australia.
The Venture Capital Entrepreneur stream is for people who have obtained at least A$1 million in funding from an Australian venture capital firm.

Applications are by invitation only. To be invited to apply, a person must lodge an Expression of Interest, be nominated by a state or territory government, and have personal and business assets of A$1.5 million (A$400 000 must be net assets in the business), and have a business turnover of A$3 million, or have obtained at least A$1 million in funding from an Australian venture capital firm for a promising high value business idea.

The Provisional Business Innovation and Investment visa (Subclass 188)
Designed to attract business innovators and investors to Australia.
Business Innovation Stream applicants must:
Lodge an expression of interest through SkillSelect
Be nominated by a state or territory
Be less than 55 years of age
Have a successful business and/or investment history
Have total assets of at least A$800,000 that have been legally acquired and can be legally transferred to Australia  within two years of the visa being granted
A total annual turnover of at least A$500,000 in one or more businesses in at least two of the four fiscal years
before applying
Score at least 65 points on the innovation points test
A genuine desire to own and maintain a management role in a business in Australia.
The program has no minimum English requirement.
Points are awarded for net personal and business assets, experience in business or investments, business turnover, investments, age, English language ability and qualifications.
This is a provisional visa that is valid for four years. During this four-year period visa holders are able to apply for the Permanent Business Innovation and Investment visa (Subclass 888).

Significant Investor Visa (Permanent Business Innovation and Investment visa) (Subclass 888)
A streamlined migration pathway for business people who are interested in investing A$5 million or more in Australia. Applications open from November 24.
This visa allows Provisional Business Innovation and Investment visa holders to obtain permanent residency by demonstrating they have established and continued their business ownership or investment in Australia and meet the business and investment requirements for the grant of the visa.
Visa applicants must:
Submit an expression of interest in SkillSelect
Be nominated by a state or territory government
Make minimum investments of A$5 million into complying investments
Visa applicants do not need to:
Satisfy the innovation points test
Conform to an upper age limit
Meet a minimum English language threshold requirement
Remain in Australia for two years – the visa stream resident requirement is now for 160 days spent in Australia over four years while holding a Business Innovation and Investment (Provisional) (subclass 188) visa.
Visa holders will be permitted to extend their provisional visa by an additional two years, with a maximum of two extensions.


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