The Turnbull government has walked back its hard-line position on 457 visas, announcing visa applications in the pipeline will not to be subject to new restrictions on permanent residency set to come into effect in March.
But migration agents are treating the announcement with caution and advising parties to lodge permanent residency applications as soon as possible.
The Department of Home Affairs told agents in a notice this month that workers who had applied for a 457 visa on or before the government’s visa crackdown on April 18 last year can still apply for permanent residency after two years.
“New requirements will not be applied to pipeline applications,” it said.
The government will abolish 457 visas in March and replace them with more limited two and four-year skilled visa streams, with only the four-year visa providing a pathway to permanent residency.
Business has attacked the new restrictions as deterring highly skilled workers and there has been widespread uncertainty over whether 457 visa applicants or holders will be subject to the new restrictions.
In forums discussing the changes last year, the department told migration agents the federal government had not grandfathered 457 visa applications still in the pipeline from the new changes.
The department’s latest newsletter appears to reverse that advice.
It said those holding 457 visas or bridging visas and those who had lodged 457 visa applications on or before April 18, and who had had their application subsequently granted, would not be subject to the new requirements.
As a result, 457 visa holders who apply for permanent residency after March can be younger than 50, not the new 45-year maximum, can apply after just two years rather than the new three-year minimum, and will not be subject to changes to the eligible occupation list.
“These arrangements remain subject to final approval,” the department said.
The transitional arrangements follow outrage last year from foreign senior executives and managers after the government’s changes retrospectively excluded them from permanent residency, a position the department later reversed.
Nomos migration lawyer Peter Papadopoulos said his firm was taking a cautious approach until there was more detail on the legislative scope of the grandfathering provisions.
“What this department is saying is that a certain cohort of applicants for permanent residence who might wish to lodge after March 2018 don’t have to worry about meeting stricter visa requirements,” he said.
“But we’re saying to our clients this policy proposal is still only set out as information in a fact sheet and a newsletter on the department’s website. Show us the legislation.
“We are advising clients, in most cases, to lodge [permanent residency applications] now if they are eligible under the current framework.”
Ernst & Young global immigration head Wayne Parcell said the indicators were promising but warned “a trickle-out commentary from the department of possible outcomes is no guarantee”.
“The absence of certainty remains for many pre-18 April 2017 subclass 457 visa holders because migration legislation changes have not yet been released.”
The transitional arrangements appear intended to avoid a spike in the number of visa applications in the weeks heading into March, with the department currently taking 10 months to process 90 per cent of applications.