PR carrot for semi-skilled workers under DAMAs, extended to south-west Victoria

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs made two successive announcements this week on Designated Area Migration Agreements (DAMAs). The first is the renewal of the DAMA for the Northern Territory, which was due to expire at the end of the year. The second is the announcement that a DAMA has been confirmed for south-west Victoria. A few surprises have come from this announcement, the biggest of which is that both DAMAs will have a pathway to a permanent visa.

DAMAs are overarching labour agreements negotiated between the Department of Home Affairs and individual States and Territories to assist with critical skill shortages in specific regions that cannot be met by the Subclass 482 – Temporary Skill Shortage visa program. This involves an approved list of semi-skilled occupations and may include concessions for salary and English language ability.

For the Northern Territory, DAMA II as it has been dubbed will broaden the number of semi-skilled occupations available by increasing them from the 117 currently listed.

The minister has also made known that a DAMA is being considered for remote parts of Western Australia, adding to a previous announcement that Cairns in Queensland and the Orana Region in central northern New South Wales are also regions of interest.

That DAMAs will have a pathway to a permanent visa will provide a substantial incentive for overseas nationals to look for positions in regions where DAMAs operate should they have the necessary skills and English language ability.

With the possibility of a permanent visa, it seems that the government is committed to making regional areas more attractive for migrants, especially since amendments to the non-regional Subclass 186 – Employer Nomination Scheme visa requires applicants to be nominated in an occupation on a relatively short list unless they are subject to transitional arrangements.

Dangling the permanent visa carrot may prove controversial as Australia’s skilled migration program has not, in recent history, provided for semi-skilled workers to become permanent residents. The exception is with Subclass 186 – Employer Nomination Scheme visa and Subclass 187 – Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme visa applications under the Agreement Stream. Statistics from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made last year shows that just 1,054 visa applications for both the 186 and 187 visa were lodged under this stream over a five-year period ending June 2017. The nominated occupations and outcomes of these applications are unknown. It would be expected that any permanent visa application made under the DAMA would be through the Agreement Stream.

What will be interesting to know is the criteria for a DAMA permanent visa application. A media article suggests that a major requirement will be that the primary visa applicant must have worked for their employer for no less than 3 years before being nominated, similar to the current regulations for nominations made under the Temporary Residence Transition Stream pathway.