Occupational Trainee Visas - Opportunities for Employers in the New Regime

by Mark Webster, Acacia Immigration Australia, 3 February 2011

Occupational Trainee visas are temporary visas which allow employers to sponsor overseas workers to participate in workplace-based training.

The requirements for Occupational Trainee visas were overhauled completely in September 2009, at the same time as major changes were made to the more common 457 Business Sponsorship visas.

However, many employers are still not on top of the changes to the Occupational Trainee requirements and this article explains how the new system works and possible opportunities for employers to use this visa type.

The application process for Occupational Trainee visas is now in 3 stages, which mirror the requirements for the 457 Business Sponsorship visa:

  1. Sponsorship
  2. Nomination
  3. Subclass 442 Visa application

Sponsorship

Previously, there was no requirement for employers to obtain sponsorship approval to apply for an occupational trainee visa.

From September 2009, only approved sponsors can nominate for Occupational Trainee Visas. The Department of Immigration will require background information on the business for this stage to be approved. This would typically include financial information, as well as details of the training to be offered to the sponsored employees.

The purpose of introducing a sponsorship stage is to enable the Department of Immigration to enforce sponsorship obligations on employers. These include ensuring that the employee has the appropriate work rights, that employment conditions are in accordance with Australian workplace legislation, and that the employer responds to monitoring requests.

Nomination

The nomination stage deals with the position and activities to be undertaken by the employee. The nomination process is now significantly more complex than was previously the case. There are 3 nomination "streams" and the proposed position and activities must fall within one of these:
  1. Training for Registration
  2. Training to Enhance Skills
  3. Training for Capacity Building Overseas

Training for Registration

Under this stream, the training program must be required for registration in a particular occupation. An example would be where an internship is required for registration as a medical practitioner. The relevant registration can either be for registration in Australia or in an overseas country.

In this case, the visa is granted for the duration of the training necessary for registration - generally less than 12 months. The employee must have the appropriate skills for the training, but no minimum work experience or qualifications are specified under the migration legislation.

Training to Enhance Skills

This option requires the visa applicant to be undertaking a structured training program to enhance their skills in a specific occupation. The list of approved occupations is the same as the list for the subclass 457 business sponsorship visa.

The visa applicant must also have worked in their occupation for at least 12 of the last 24 months.

Training for Capacity Building Overseas

The intention of this stream is for the visa applicant to enhance their skills in their occupation, then return to their home country where the skills will then be utilised. There are 3 possible pathways:
  1. Training supported by a government agency or government of the applicant's home country
  2. Practical experience, research or observation required to complete an overseas qualification. In this case, the maximum period of training is 6 months
  3. Either a student or recent graduate from an overseas institution undertaking research in Australia

Subclass 442 Visa Application

The final stage is to apply for the Occupational Trainee Visa itself.

The nomination streams tend to specify the qualifications and work experience required for the training. At a minimum, the trainee needs to have a background consistent with the proposed training. A resume and qualifications will generally need to be provided.

In addition, the applicant will need to show that they have adequate English language ability to undertake the training, and the must be over 18 unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Special considerations apply for holders of student visas in Australia who wish to apply for an Occupational Trainee Visa - in particular they must have completed the course started on the student visa.

Comparison with Subclass 457 Business Sponsorship Visa

The occupational trainee visa may be an alternative to a 457 visa in some circumstances, particularly in relation to entry level positions. The main points of difference are:

Occupations

The 457 visa is only available for certain occupations which tend to be at the management, professional, associate professional or trade level. For most of the Occupational Trainee Visa streams, there is no specified occupations list.

Employer Training

Occupational Trainee Visas require a structured training program, and evidence must be provided of this. However, there is no minimum expenditure required on training whereas for a 457 visa, employers must demonstrate that 1% or in some cases 2% of wages and salaries must be spent on training.

Salary Level

Employees must be paid the "market rate" salary for 457 visas, and an absolute minimum salary of $47,480 applies. For Occupational Trainee Visas, no minimum salary is specified. It is even possible for the trainee to be unpaid, but this requires a special acknowledgement to be signed by both employer and trainee.

Visa Duration

457 visas are generally valid for 4 years on grant. An occupational trainee is generally 12 months or less, and in some cases a maximum of 6 months only is allowed.

Conclusion

The Occupational Trainee Visa regime from September 2009 is much more closely regulated, and significant new requirements apply for both the sponsorship and nomination stage.

However, it is a useful alternative to the 457 Business Sponsorship visa in some circumstances. It is not a visa option well understood by employers, particularly after the September 2009 and is probably under-utilised.

Please contact us if you need assistance in obtaining Occupational Trainee Visas for your staff.

Stay up to date - Subscribe to Immigration News!