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Visa changes may hit home

WESTERN AUSTRALIA could lose out following recent changes in business migrant visa classes.

That’s the concern among those involved in the State’s business migration industry, who say that large numbers of potential business migrants have been automatically ruled out under the new system.

While many of the changes have been hailed as positive, they have also drawn fire from some who deem them too conservative.

Changes to the visa classes, which came into effect on March 1 this year, were designed to increase the number of business people settling in regional and low population areas of Australia, and to increase the number and proportion of business migrants who are successful in running a business.

More stringent criteria and increased financial requirements have made it more difficult for business migrants to secure visas, but once they are here and are successful, it is easier for them to stay.

The changes have placed the onus squarely on State and Territory governments, which now have more influence over the number and the skill level of business migrants that settle within their regions by enabling them to sponsor business migrants in line with their regional and economic objectives.

The majority of the new visas now involve a two-stage process whereby business migrants are initially granted a temporary resident visa. Once they have successfully established their business or maintained their specified investment in Australia for a set period of time, they may apply for a permanent resident visa.

Of particular concern to some, however, is the scrapping of Visa 457, a subclass of the no longer applicable Independent Executive Category.

Visa 457 was a temporary resident visa that allowed a business migrant with $250,000 and some business background to come to Australia for an initial period of four years.

If the business migrant was successful after four years they were able to apply for another  visa including permanent residency.

Visa 457 was the document of choice for many entrepreneurial business migrants, and the basis upon which many small and medium-sized businesses have been built.

Excluding Visa 457 or an equivalent from the system has ruled out small business owners such as sole traders, trades-based business and consultants entering the country. And it is these skills that WA needs.

However, the Federal Government argues that the new system is more efficient and transparent and business migrants can be more certain of what is expected of them with regards to fulfilling their visa requirements.

The Government also argues that sole traders who can no longer apply for a business visa would be eligible for a skilled migrant visa, which may involve finding employer sponsorship.

The changes also include the ability for States and Territories to grant four-year provisional visas to business migrants who have been successful in obtaining sponsorship from their State or Territory government, provided they have successfully operated a business for at least two years.

State and Territory governments can grant concessions, for example waiving the age limit of 45 for business migrants, provided they establish a particular business in a particular region.

In WA, the Small Business Development Council is responsible for attracting and assisting business migrants gain entry to our State.

The SBDC offers the Business Migrant Incentive Program, unique to WA, which is designed to attract business migrants to the State’s regions.

The incentive program involves criteria concessions and financial assistance to business migrants willing to establish a business 50 kilometres outside of the CBD.

The program offers $1500 towards engaging a consultant to prepare a business proposal for State sponsorship to WA.

SBDC managing director George Etrelezis said while he considered the overall system to be more efficient and transparent, there were some issues for some smaller businesses.

“I believe the new system with its two tier process now clearly defines how a business migrant can convert from temporary residency to permanent residency status,” he said.

“However, the owner operated businesses where the owner mainly provides professional, technical or trade services may have some difficulty in achieving the new visa entry criteria.”

However, WA State director of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, José Alvarez, said State sponsorship was an avenue open to small business people and sole traders who may not be eligible for a visa under the new system.

“The States, and especially WA, are very much looking at sponsoring business, particularly into regional areas,” he said.

“The objective as to create employment for the Australian community.  We want business that will employ ‘x’ number of Australian residents with ‘x’ turnover.”

Concerning the new system and the more restrictive criteria, Mr Alvarez said the Government was trying to attract a higher calibre of business migrant and that extensive assessment and consultation with industry took place in formulating it.

“We want young entrepreneurial people coming here that are more likely to succeed,” he said. “It is a matter of trying to establish stringent criteria and there was lot of input by stakeholders, State government, chambers and industry. “There was a conscious decision that it wouldn’t be the small end of the market because an assessment was made based on most likely success.

“That’s not to say that they can’t succeed – but the Government wanted business that was more likely to succeed and part of that is that there is a certain cut off, for example, $300,000 in turnover.”

However many business migration agents spoken to by WA Business News said they expected a decline in the number of business migrant applications due to the changes to the system.

AAA Australian Migration Limited managing director Peter Rozsy said while many of the changes were positive, including making the system more transparent, Australia would lose out on certain types of skilled migrants.

“The new changes certainly cut out an enormous number of people who would have been eligible previously, such as sole traders,” he said.

“The Government’s argument is that these people should have to apply for a skilled migrant visa, but the age limit of 45 is a problem for some applicants. The Government doesn’t want an ageing population but there are some skilled people in that age bracket.”

Immigration Solutions Australia director Noelene Merrey said the changes would have a direct impact on the number of entrepreneurs who would be able to enter the country.

“It will probably result in a decline in migrants that we are trying to attract,” she said.

“I can see the conservatism, but it’s taken the excitement out of business, which is what this country needs. What a boring little country we’ll become.”

Ms Merrey said the age limit of 45 was a problem.

“A 55-year-old successful senior executive has a lot to contribute. They are not a burden,” she said.

However, with Australia’s new visa system in place only a few months, it will be some time before the impact of the changes is evident.

Mr Alvarez said that the Government would closely monitor the new system.

“One of the ways to monitor progress of a program is to look at statistics, where people are, what they’re doing and how successful they’ve been,” he said.

“As part of the ongoing assessment and evaluation or program there will be ongoing monitoring.”

Mr Alvarez said he expected that, over time, the States and Territories would provide feedback to the Federal Government to refine the system based on their experience.

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