Best pathway to Australia: Get an employer sponsor or become a diesel mechanic/soldier – Sam Hopwood

Governments all over the world are starting to close the door to immigrants, particularly in a year when many countries are holding elections and politicians have singled out migration as an election issue. In Australia, the current government is planning to revolutionise the immigration system. Australian immigration specialist at Sable International, Sam Hopwood, told Biznews in an interview that the envisaged changes will affect employer-sponsored visas and general skilled migration. Hopwood said Australia is favouring younger candidates, and one of the suggested changes is the introduction of a top-tier category for people with specialist skills. This category is aimed at those earning between AUD 100,000 and AUD 135,000 in Australia, whose visas the government wants to process within seven days. His advice to clients considering emigration is to find a sponsor in Australia who wants to employ them. In-demand jobs include diesel mechanics, and there is a new scheme for joining the Australian Defence Force.

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Extended transcript of the interview

Linda van Tilburg (00:00.000)

I have Sam Hopwood from Sable International with me. He is the Australian immigration specialist and we would love to catch up with him on what is possible in terms of Australian immigration. 

Linda van Tilburg (00:20.696)

The rules seem to keep on changing. What is the present situation?

Sam Hopwood (00:26.197)

The one constant in this industry is change and certainly, we have a lot of change afoot here in Australia with our immigration policies and it’s been going on for the past year or more and we anticipate more changes in the near future. The immigration minister came out last year and said that she was going to totally revolutionise our immigration system.

We’ve seen small tweaks here and there throughout the system in the past 12 months, most of them beneficial towards migrants, I must say. We’re expecting between now and the end of 2024 to see a lot of new, big changes. Those changes are going to relate to employer-sponsored visas and general skilled migration. Essentially, those are the two categories that the government uses to address skills shortages here in Australia and they’re going to be changing the system and tinkering with it and tweaking it. Overall, they’re trying to make it more beneficial for Australia as a whole and some of these changes will not be of benefit to some migrants and some of these changes will be beneficial to other migrants. I think that’s probably where we’ll try and focus our attention tonight and talk about the winners and the losers in the big scheme of things.

Linda van Tilburg (01:50.36)

Let’s go for winners first because that might open avenues for South Africans who might be considering it.

Sam Hopwood (01:57.621)

Well, let’s start with employer-sponsored visas. One of the big changes that the government made last year to try and level the playing field, as they called it and that was to address some inequities in the system that meant that some migrants who came here on work visas were not eligible for permanent residency. Those were people who were working in occupations, which were on a short-term list against those migrants who came on occupations that were on a long-term list. 

So, changes have been made to try and level the playing field so that all migrants who come on working visas, the 482-visa (Temporary Skill Shortage visa) specifically, will now have pathways to permanent residency. So, as an example, if you were a mechanical engineering technician, previously you were on a short-term list that did not have an avenue or pathway to permanent residency.

But, if you’re a mechanical engineer, then you’re on the long-term list and you have a pathway. So, the government has made those changes and they’re very favourable changes and I applaud the government for making those changes, which means that if you come to Australia for either of those two occupations now, you will be playing under the same rules, which state that you need to come to Australia, live and work here on a 482-visa for two years and now you can get permanent residency, whereas previously it was possible for some, but not for others. 

Those are really good changes and all I can see is winners in that particular cohort of applicants. So, that’s good news. But the government has more changes afoot and they’re going to scrap what we currently refer to as a 482-visa. So, this is the visa that is used by most employers here in Australia to bring overseas skills to Australia. 

The government’s going to get rid of it and call it something else and we’re going to work under a new system and it’s going to be a three-tiered system.

They’re basically going to split the skills into three different tiers. T1, T2, T3, and the top tier will be those people with specialist skills aimed at people who are earning over AUD100,0000 to AUD135,000 here in Australia. They’re going to put these people at the top of the list and they’re going to process them quickly, within 7 days, they say. How they’re going to do that, I don’t know, but they say they’re going to do it within 7 days. So, we’ll wait and see about that one. The second tier is Core Skills. These are for individuals earning at least AUD70,000, and they will probably be the largest of the total group. 

Then the last tier will be: Essential Skills and those people who are probably working in less highly skilled jobs, but still jobs which are important to our economy and each of the tiers will be addressed differently in policy and law. You will need to achieve different criteria for each of these tiers. So, at the moment, all we have is announcements, we haven’t seen any law yet. We haven’t seen any policy yet. We’ve just seen a lot of announcements as to what they intend to do to the system. When these changes will come into effect, we don’t know exactly, but they said that they will be phasing them in between now and the end of 2024. So, we are waiting with bated breath.

Linda van Tilburg (05:26.456)

Normally there’s a list of preferred skills. So it seems you have to earn quite a high salary? Are more professional jobs favoured? 

Sam Hopwood (05:39.509)

We don’t have a specific list. The list is currently under consultation and there’s been a lot written about the consultation at this point because some occupations on the list within the consultation process have been earmarked for removal from the list and this is causing quite a bit of drama here in Australia because there are several occupations on the list, which have been earmarked for removal, which are in high demand and everyone is shaking their head saying, how could you possibly remove that occupation from the list? Whilst other occupations have been left on the list or have been earmarked for ‘in high demand.’ 

I think the government’s got a lot of work to do to get their lists correct. They have said that in the top tier for those earning over AUD135,000, there will be no specific list. So, you could be of any occupation. As long as you’re not in a trade, they say that you could be working in any particular occupation. If you have an offer of employment from a sponsor here in Australia, then if it’s over AUD135,000, it will be considered a serious occupation, regardless of whether or not the occupation is specified on the list and that’s probably a reflection of how outdated the list is. 

The list at the moment doesn’t encompass a lot of new occupations and there are a lot of new occupations that are in digital and IT, which are at the cutting edge of technology and our occupation lists aren’t necessarily up to date with those particular occupations. So, I think that’s a reflection of the government’s thinking that they don’t know what they don’t know and they are of the opinion that if you’re working in a highly paid occupation then whether or not they have you on the list shouldn’t really matter, which is probably a good thing. It’s probably wise of them to take that approach.

Linda van Tilburg (07:45.176)

You said there are some losers, so what is not on the list anymore?

Sam Hopwood (07:50.069)

What is not on the list anymore? Well, some occupations have been earmarked for removal from the list, for example, restaurant managers or even cooks. Here in Australia, we have a huge shortage of people who work in the hospitality industry and if you run a restaurant or a cafe here in Australia, the labour market is such that you’re struggling to find people to work in your business as a restaurant manager or as a cook or as a chef, and those occupations have been earmarked for removal. There’s been consultation, there’s been submissions to the government and people are jumping up and down and saying, ‘Please don’t remove these occupations from the list.’ 

So again, we don’t know whether or not the government is going to carry on through with their intentions and with what has been earmarked on the list. If those occupations are removed, then the losers will definitely be those industries specifically, people who work in the industry, and people who own businesses in the industry, and they will suffer. 

We’re all shaking our heads saying, surely no. But, sometimes it’s a matter of process and the government needs to go through their process and their consultation to find out which parts of the industry will jump up and down enough to shake the tree and find out what falls out of it and to ensure that they remain on the list. So, we wait with bated breath.  That’s the employer-sponsored route, the three different tiers and at this stage, we don’t know too much because those lists are yet to be published. 

The other section of our migration system is what we refer to as general skilled migration and this has been a great servant to Australia throughout several different years to provide skilled labour to Australia in several different occupations. This is where the government, the federal government build their own lists and they determine who is in demand and who is not in demand and it’s been studied by very clever people over a long period. They have determined that the skilled occupation system for Australia has not delivered as they had hoped. We have examples, a lot of examples of very highly qualified and skilled people migrating to Australia who may have PhDs and great experience overseas. They come to Australia and they end up driving Ubers. So this is where the system is failing and the government is aware of that.

The system has not worked to its best benefit to Australia and they’re looking to address the system. So, general skilled migration works on a points-based system. You score points at the moment by your age, your occupation, your academic qualifications, and your work experience. The system cuts off at the age of 45 as we currently know it. 

We have a problem in Australia whereby we have an ageing population and we need more younger people who are going to provide for the tax base so that the federal government can collect more taxes over a longer period.

We believe, and when I say we, I say we as those who work in the industry believe that the changes which will be made to the point system will probably benefit people who are younger and who have greater possibilities and prospects of employment here in Australia. We don’t want people with PhDs coming to Australia and driving Ubers. That is not of great benefit to Australia. So, we believe that they will probably change the system and gear it more towards younger people and people who have work experience in their occupation and who perhaps have an offer of employment here in Australia or who might be here in Australia already on a temporary visa and who are working in their occupation. 

There have been studies done and those studies have told us that good migrants are those migrants who are here in Australia and who are working in their occupation. In an occupation, they have gained qualifications for either here in Australia or overseas and they have an employer who is benefiting from their skills. So again, we don’t know how they’re gonna tweak the system, but they will probably place a greater emphasis on those people who, like I say, either have an offer of employment in Australia or are already here and working in their occupation.

Linda van Tilburg (12:47.32)

So, there are a lot of changes coming. Is there any deadline for it because you are also approaching an election year as basically the rest of the planet?

Sam Hopwood (12:55.477)

Yes, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that we are coming towards an election in the next 12 months and immigration policies are used by governments the world over to argue why they should and shouldn’t be returned to government based on their immigration policies.

We have a problem here in Australia: we don’t have enough housing. We have a great landmass, but we don’t have enough people to house people here in Australia. So, people think we have a migration problem, as in we have too many people, but we don’t have too many people. We just don’t have enough houses and that puts a lot of stress on the system. So, the rental market here in Australia is very expensive and the government must be seen to be doing something to address those problems. 

The news tells us that the problem is the migrants, but the problem is actually the housing system. So, if you look at the UK, if you look at the US, if you look at Australia and New Zealand, parts of the developed world that rely on skilled migration to Australia, they have or they are coming to elections, which they will argue will be based a lot on their immigration policies and Australia is no different. Our current federal government is making the argument that they are trying to streamline the immigration system to better benefit Australia so that we get the skills that we need without overpopulating Australia by causing more issues to our housing market and other infrastructure problems that we have. It is a political football and both teams kick it back and forth. 

I’m perhaps somewhat cynical about what their intentions are and how they will best deliver to Australia but if we’re to believe the Immigration Minister, then we’re looking at a new system which will deliver fewer people with more skills who are more targeted towards the industries and occupations which are in high demand.

Sam Hopwood (15:08.245)

The Immigration Minister has talked about certain aspects of the point system which they wish to address. The age of people is one thing. I think they will give the system to younger people. They will give the system to people who have a higher English language competency, people with higher education and people who have experience in their occupation working here in Australia.

So, to me, it sounds more of the same. We’ve heard it all before. But like I say, that’s the cynic in me coming out. I hope the system and the changes that we see in the system do benefit Australia in the long term.

If you’re a migrant though and you’re looking to come to Australia, you’re all asking me this question, well Sam, what can we do? What can we do now to make ourselves a better prospect for Australia, so the likelihood is of us getting a visa to come and live and work in Australia? 

I tell all my clients that the best thing you can do is to try and find a sponsor here in Australia who wants to employ you. That is a fairly well-defined pathway into Australia to find a sponsor who wants to employ you because it demonstrates to the government that you are in demand, you have a sponsor, you have an employer here in Australia who is willing to go through the administrative process to spend money to bring you here to Australia.

So, if you’re overseas and you work in a skilled occupation, then get on the internet and scale the job sites, all the websites, make applications to sponsors, to employers here in Australia and you’ll find that if you’re working in an occupation which is in demand in Australia, they will probably be quite receptive to you. 

We do a lot of migration into Australia for diesel mechanics, for example, and people might be surprised at the fact that we need a lot of diesel mechanics. We have a lot of mines, we build a lot of roads, we have a lot of big infrastructure projects, and all these projects require big machinery, and big machinery requires skilled diesel mechanics. You’re in high demand in Australia.

We’re seeing a lot of these people from overseas, from South Africa and other parts of the world get snapped up if you’re a skilled diesel mechanic. So, there’s just one example.

Linda van Tilburg (17:36.056)

Well, a new opportunity that came up in the last couple of weeks is that the Australian Defence Force now allows recruits from foreign countries. Is that a way to come and join the army?

Sam Hopwood (17:48.309)

Well, yes, that’s a funny one, and it’s a very recent one. The government just announced in the last few days that they’re going to open pathways to people who wish to come and join the Defence Force here in Australia. I think we can read that not enough people here in Australia wish to join the Defence Force. So, they’re looking to recruit from overseas. We’ve seen similar recruitment drives from other government departments, like the police force, for example.

The police force in Australia in different states and territories over time has taken it upon itself to go overseas to recruit police officers to bring to Australia. So when the government identifies those occupations, those demands, those industries, and they put them on lists and they put them at the top of their announcements, then you can take some confidence from the fact that that is an occupation or an industry that you are probably going to be successful if you follow through.

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