How designated area migration agreements work

Regional migration is the hot topic in migration law with a number of major changes set for 2019. 

Regional Australia is set for a population boost if the government has its way. The plan is to entice migrants to rural and remote areas by fast-tracking applications that fall into certain existing visa subclasses, the purpose being to ease migration congestion in city areas and replenish employment in regional areas where there are current shortages.

One option available to regions and states is the Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA). The DAMA is a type of labour agreement designed to fill specific occupation or skill shortages within a particular state or region. A region or state with a DAMA will have negotiated with the Commonwealth government certain concessions of the 482 visa requirements or conditions. In order to qualify, the particular region would need to demonstrate that they face certain labour shortages which cannot otherwise be filled with local labour.

Local employers, that qualify, can then enter into a labour agreement with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) under the conditions of the DAMA, which have already been negotiated between the region and the government. Qualifying visa applicants who fall into the DAMA’s occupation list could then apply under the Labour Agreement Stream of the 482 visa with the various concessions they are entitled to under the DAMA. DAMAs may also offer applicants a pathway to PR even if the DAMA occupation is not on the usual PR occupation list.

The Northern Territory and Great South Coast Victoria have recently successfully negotiated DAMAs. Victoria’s DAMA is still in its infancy in comparison with the Northern Territory, which has gone a step further in incentivising migration with the Migration Innovation Northern Territory (MINT) program, designed to attract innovative and entrepreneurial business.

DAMAs aren’t the only avenue regions can pursue to overcome occupation or skill shortages. There are many ways around the labour shortages through other visa subclasses. New South Wales is yet to enter into a DAMA, however regional employers have expressed concerns over the difficulties being faced in employing in certain occupations such as seasonal fruit pickers. The government is, therefore, looking to pursue other avenues to overcome the issue. For example, the requirement for working holiday visa holders to work for 3 months in regional NSW, potentially as fruit pickers, before being able to apply for a second working holiday visa.

The question on everyone’s lips is, will the DAMA be successful in boosting regional migration? The answer is, potentially. Labour agreements are not new, but were, in the past, more suited to larger businesses due to the high costs involved. Smaller, independent businesses would encounter obstacles, mainly financial, when negotiating concessions directly with the government or DHA. These small businesses could be expending crippling amounts of money on legal advice and representation for the negotiations, potentially for a relatively small number of overseas employees.

For larger businesses, though, it was arguably worth spending the tens of thousands of dollars on an agreement which would ultimately allow them to employ, for example, 100 skilled abattoir or meat workers from overseas per year, an occupation that is not on the usual 482 occupation list with applicants possibly not otherwise satisfying certain other 482 visa requirements.

DAMAs may, therefore, be beneficial given the relevant state or region acts as the ‘middleman’ and can negotiate many of the conditions or concessions directly with the government, on behalf of the businesses in the region. Businesses and applicants would then only need to apply under the conditions of the already-negotiated labour agreement.

What this means is that a DAMA’s success would heavily depend on how thorough the consultation process was between the state or region and the relevant businesses as to identifying the specific needs of the area, such as the occupations required.

The regional migration initiative has a two-prong effect, providing a pathway to permanent residency and aiming to fill employment shortages in regional Australia. A thorough understanding of the DAMA and its benefit to businesses in regional and remote areas is key to potentially gaining a clear pathway for your client’s migration.

For immigration lawyers and migration agents, keeping abreast of the changes and having a detailed understanding of the state and region-specific technicalities is a challenge. Navigating through the different visa processes, eligibility, requirements and pathways to permanent residency in each region, state and territory adds additional layers of complexity and understanding to an already highly technical area.