The Australian Immigration Department has proposed a new programme called 'Designated Area Migration Agreement' (hereafter DAMA) aimed at assisting employers and local areas in cases where there are specific cases of labour shortages.
Through the DAMA programme, employers in a designated area will have access to a pre-negotiated labour agreement allowing them to sponsor overseas workers to Australia. It is expected that the main visa granted to overseas workers will be a 457 visa although permanent residency may be agreed to in limited circumstances. The majority of requirements, obligations and conditions applicable to the standard 457 programme will still apply to users of the programme with the exception of situations where a concession has been negotiated into a particular DAMA. The Department has indicated that possible concessions could include:
l English language requirements;
l The occupations that can be sponsored;
l Skills and experience requirements; and
l The temporary skilled migration income threshold (in limited circumstances only).
The main advantage for employers utilizing this programme over directly negotiating a Labour Agreement with the Immigration Department will be the reduced paperwork, time, labour market research, and money required to justify an agreement.
Who can apply for a DAMA?
Unfortunately, it seems that business groups will not themselves be able to directly apply for a DAMA. Instead, they will need to be represented by one of the following organisations which will apply for the DAMA on their behalf:
l state or territory governments;
l state or territory statutory authorities (e.g. planning commissions);
l regional authorities; or
l local councils
l peak industries bodies (unconfirmed)
The proposed application process will be as follows:
1. Recognised organisation (the DAMA representative) prepares DAMA submission
2. Submission provided to State Government or Territory for support
3. Immigration Department assesses DAMA and negotiates with the DAMA representative
4. DAMA agreement is signed between DAMA representative and DIBP
How does an employer access a DAMA?
Once a DAMA is in place, employers within the designated area will be able to make a request for endorsement to the relevant representative allowing them access to the DAMA. The employer will need to demonstrate to the DAMA representative that they can satisfy the conditions of the agreement as well as other general 457 obligations including the training benchmark requirement. If the employer is endorsed by the DAMA representative, the Immigration Department will draw up a Labour Agreement to be signed by the employer. After the labour agreement is signed by both the employer and the Immigration Department, the employer will then be able to sponsor 457 visa applicants. Both the DAMA representative and employers utilizing a DAMA will be required to report to the Immigration Department on a yearly basis.
While the DAMA programme is an interesting proposal, much of the attractiveness of the programme will depend on the quality of the agreement negotiated between the relevant DAMA representative and the Immigration Department. It is quite possible that employers in certain locations may benefit greatly while those in others may see very little benefit from a DAMA. As such, we would suggest that employers interested in this option should ensure that potential DAMA representatives in their region have a solid understanding of their business needs and thus we encourage employers to participate in any opportunities for consultation.
Finally, it is important to note this programme is still undergoing consultation. However considering the detailed draft guidelines already produced by the Department, we see this programme as having a high likelihood of being implemented. Until then, employers will need to utilize the existing options for sponsorship which fortunately in most cases are already quite adequate.