Let us find you that Sponsored Job Down Under
On 1 July 2012 there were significant changes to the permanent employer-sponsored visa program. This includes changes to the following visa types:

Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS)
Regional Skilled Migration Scheme (RSMS)
Labour Agreement

The changes are as below:

Simplifying the previous 6 subclasses of Employer Sponsored visas to 2 subclasses
Introduction of 3 distinct eligibility streams - 457 holders, direct applicants and Labour Agreement applicants
Increasing the maximum age for ENS and RSMS visas to 50 years
Changes to the English language requirements for ENS and RSMS
Changes to qualification and skill requirements for ENS and RSMS
Creating a single skilled occupation which applies to ENS, 457 and State/Territory Sponsored Points Tested visas
Limiting the "exceptional circumstances" grounds for applying for ENS and RSMS visas
Introduction of market rate salary for ENS and RSMS
Higher training requirements for ENS
Introduction of E-lodgement of RSMS and ENS visas

Visa Simplification

From 1 July 2012, there are only two permanent employer sponsored visa subclasses, down from the six which previously applied.

The ENS Subclass 186 visa replaced both the offshore subclass 121 visa and the onshore subclass 856 visa.

The RSMS Subclass 187 visa replaced both the offshore subclass 119 visa and the onshore subclass 857 visa.

Labour agreement subclass 120 and 855 visas are being subsumed into the new subclasses 186 and 187.

Eligibility Streams

There are three eligibility streams for the new ENS Subclass 186 and RSMS Subclass 187 visa:

Temporary Residence Transition: where applicants have worked with the employer on a 457 visa for the last 2 years.
Direct Entry Stream: for applicants who have not worked in Australia, or who have worked in Australia on a visa other than a 457 visa
Agreement Stream: for applicants whose employer has a Labour Agreement

Exceptional Circumstances

Previously, a high proportion of RSMS and ENS applicants could be granted on the basis of exceptional circumstances for age, skill level and English language ability.

However, under the new system, exemptions are much more restrictive and applied in a much more objective way. Details of the circumstances where exemptions will be applied are discussed below.

English Requirement

The basic English level for Direct Entry stream applicants increased to Competent English (6 minimum in each component of IELTS). The previous level for ENS was 5 minimum (Vocational), whilst for RSMS it was functional (4.5 average).

For Temporary Residence Transition stream applicants, the English requirement is 5 minimum in IELTS (Vocational) for both ENS and RSMS visas.

If English testing has been conducted for the purposes of obtaining a 457 visa, further English tests will not need to be completed.

Exemptions for English language ability apply for:

Holders of British, US, Irish, Canadian or NZ passports
Gazetted occupations - eg Ministers of Religion
Temporary Residence Transition Stream applicants who have studied for five consecutive years at a secondary level or higher in English medium

Age Limit

The current maximum age limit for ENS and RSMS is 45 - this is raised to 50 under the new arrangements.

Age exemptions apply for:

Gazetted occupations such as Ministers of Religion or research scientists
Temporary Residence Transition Stream applicants who have been employed with their sponsor for the last 4 years and have a high salary level (currently AUD 118,000)

Skills and Qualifications

Skills assessment is required for:

ENS applicants applying through the Direct Entry stream; and
RSMS applicants in trade occupations applying through the Direct Entry stream

In the case of ENS Direct Entry stream applicants, applicants must also show 3 years of work experience in their occupation.

RSMS applicants must show that they have a qualification at the AQF III level or higher.

Skill and Qualification Exemptions apply for:

Gazetted occupations such as Ministers of Religion or research scientists
High salary earners (AUD 250,000)

Employer Training Requirements

ENS employers must meet the same training requirement as currently applies to 457 visas, namely either:

1% of payroll spent on formal training activities; or
2% of payroll paid into a training fund

For RSMS, there is no training requirement.

Market Rate Salary and Position Requirements

Employees must be paid at the market rate, similar to the 457 program. The current minimum salary level for ENS ($49,330 for most occupations and $67,556 for ICT occupations) will no longer apply.

The position must be available for the next 2 years.

Occupations List

The occupations list for ENS, 457 and State/Territory Sponsored Points tested migration is combined to form a single list, CSOL. This is composted of most of ANZSCO occupations at skill levels 1-3.

Most significantly, any applicant with a 457 visa who remains with the sponsoring employer for two years will potentially be able to apply for permanent residence through ENS. This is in stark contrast to the previous situation where certain 457 occupations, such as restaurant and catering managers, were not able to apply for ENS visas because their occupation was not on the ENS list.

The occupations list for RSMS is all ANZSCO occupations at skill levels 1-3.