Expanding horizons: why well-planned migration programmes are more important than ever

February 12, 2015
FCB Smart Visa

New trade opportunities and tighter markets for skilled labour make sponsored migration an increasingly attractive option. In this article, Jacob Wyllie, Head of Migration at FCB Smart Visa, looks at planning for sponsorship success.

2015 is shaping up as the year to review or develop your migration strategy, to support your medium-long term recruitment, retention and capacity building plans. It is also a year we expect to bring substantial change to the 457 programme, so it will be crucial to keep abreast of these changes and prepare for their practical impact.

Reviewing and implementing appropriate migration strategies can help ‘future proof’ your business against gaps in existing labour markets. For example:

  • If you already have a migration program, you can position your business to take best advantage of anticipated changes to the visa system, staying ahead of competitors in the hunt for skilled labour; or
  • If you don’t have a migration program now, you can position yourself to take advantage of new markets, as Free Trade Agreements and new opportunities for labour integration come on line (eg, China/India).

Ultimately, businesses that don’t review or embrace their migration solutions are likely to miss out on the right people, for the right jobs at the time they need them, both now and as competition for skills becomes even greater.

Why migration?

At a time when headlines are full of redundancies, it’s tempting to think local workers will remain in ready supply, as and whenever you need them. Yet the reality is quite different. Many businesses already struggle to find appropriately skilled workers who align to modern technologies and industries. On the other hand, many ‘old economy’ workers find themselves without the practical skills or experiences to adapt to new roles. Of course, migration won’t ever be a complete solution when local labour markets fail. This is why, for example, the current visa system includes obligations on employers to train (or re-train) local workers. But increasingly, as the economy continues to globalise and modernise, turning to foreign labour markets is becoming an inevitable part of doing business.

In our experience, some of the key reasons why businesses choose to sponsor foreign workers include:

Finding industry specific skills

Innovation is seen as one of the key planks of improved productivity for Australia. Yet many cutting edge or pipeline technologies still originate overseas. It is unsurprising then that finding technicians or analysts with the skills and experience to work with advanced technologies won’t always be possible in Australia.

Maintaining an integrated globalised workforce

Many multinational/global companies prefer to fill local vacancies using workers from within their overseas branches (ie, inter-office transfer of skilled workers who are already familiar with their business). However, smaller businesses also benefit from sponsoring overseas staff. In particular, the cultural understanding needed to market a business online internationally can be assisted by ensuring a foreign presence locally. And a culturally diverse workforce can add strength and flexibility to a business that it might not otherwise have.

Competitive recruitment advantage

Our research indicates that the vast majority of employers still expect to find the workers they need within local markets, within their existing industry.1 But in many industries, the pool of available and experienced staff overseas vastly outnumbers those in Australia. As such, employers are increasingly recognising that global recruitment and sponsoring arrangements can in fact be simpler, more cost effective and provide better results than competing with other employers locally.


Trade opportunities in emerging markets continue to provide new opportunities for growth. But without the workforce capacity to meet demand, engaging with massive economies like India and China can be a double edged sword. With population stagnating locally but on a rapid growth trajectory in places like India, at least some of this demand for capacity will need to be met by foreign workers.

Succession planning

Australia’s population is ageing quickly, with projections that overall participation will decline as older workers drop out of the workforce. In particular, the services sector is finding that in order to fill the void left by older workers (and a lack of young workers motivated to perform service oriented work), sponsored migration is vital to ensure their businesses can continue into the future.

Anticipated changes to subclass 457 visas: robust new foundations?

In 2015 we expect to see further changes to the current subclass 457 visa programme, with reforms having been foreshadowed by the Coalition government in detailed policy level documents. The overall tenor of the proposals is an attempt to make the whole system more transparent and clearly defined, to improve access and, ultimately, the utility of the system. Although the devil will be in the implementation, at this preliminary stage the proposals generally appear well directed and are to be applauded.

The key points from the recommendations are:

  • Labour Market Testing to be abolished as ineffective.
  • Training Benchmarks to be replaced by an annual training fund contribution.
  • English language requirement to be changed to IELTS average 5 and further exemptions allowed.
  • Genuine Position requirement to change to help ensure appropriate assessment.
  • Labour Agreements to be reformed and more accessible.

Essentially, the mooted changes are a practical rebalancing/adjustment to laws which had perhaps been allowed to sway too far in an ideological direction as a result of political manoeuvring. However, the mix also includes some proposals that seem less sensible. For example, the new training proposal appears to reward organisations which provide little or no training to their employees, rather than those who are trying to upskill their own local workforce through appropriate training. The existing training requirements do take a substantial amount of work to meet, so many potential sponsors will prefer the more concrete and objective new arrangements. At the same time, it is difficult to assess the recommendations as being an entirely adequate replacement for the current scheme.


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The keys to a robust migration plan

When it comes down to it, having an effective migration strategy means being prepared and well-positioned to move quickly when opportunities arise. There is nothing worse than missing out on the right candidates, or not being able to resource an important business opportunity, just because getting the right visa was going to take too long!

In our experience, these tips can help achieve migration success:

  • Plan ahead. Some employers shy away from sponsorships entirely because they see the process as too complex and technical. Often, this perception arises because the business hasn’t used visas before and doesn’t have a strong level of understanding or preparation. If your first experience of the system involves trying to sponsor a candidate at short notice, before they take another job or before you lose an opportunity, then it certainly can seem overwhelming. Although a good advisor will help you through this, it doesn’t have to be this way. Even just a small amount of forward planning can take away much of the stress (and cost) and ensure you are ready to go when opportunities are recognised.
  • Stay mindful and focussed on your big picture workforce strategy and adapt your migration strategy accordingly. In an attempt to achieve efficiency, high volume business sponsors can sometimes ‘over transactionalise’ their sponsorship processes or become trapped in cycles that don’t keep up with changing business needs. The managers and advisors who are administering your visa system should always have one eye on the broader strategy, so they are attuned to potential changes and can make necessary adjustments quickly and efficiently. A helpful way to encourage this is ensuring you partner with agents who don’t just specialise in migration but also understand your industry, your business and your broader workforce goals.
  • Integrate your migration processes with your broader systems. Although sponsorship processes are – of their nature – highly transactional, if they are conducted in isolation from other business functions, it can trigger a variety of unanticipated business costs and liabilities. For example, the processes you follow to recruit overseas workers may set unintended precedents for local recruitment practices, with local employees coming to expect the same treatment. Conversely, treating visa holders differently from others may trigger discrimination issues, unless there are clearly defensible reasons behind the choices. You can’t resolve these issues simply by tasking someone to ensure compliance with migration obligations – an integrated system is needed to align all your people management and corporate risk frameworks.

If you have any migration matters that you would like to discuss, please call one of our migration agents on (02) 9922 5188.

1 FCB Group, Smarter solutions for the future (White Paper published October 2014)