Religious Organisations Benefit from Changes to Employer Sponsored Migration

webster By Mark Webster
Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Religious organisations have benefited from changes made in 2012 to the Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) and Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) visas.

ENS and RSMS both result in permanent residence for the visa applicant. The applicant and any dependent family members receive visas allowing them full work rights in Australia, with access to Medicare. After 4 years in Australia, they would generally become eligible for Australian citizenship.

The RSMS visa requires a job offer in a regional area of Australia, whereas the ENS visa allows residence anywhere in Australia.

Many of the more difficult aspects of RSMS and ENS applications - skills assessment, English language ability, age, salary level and training requirements - are either highly modified or do not apply to religious organisations sponsoring religious workers.

English Language Ability

Most ENS and RSMS applicants need to complete English language testing to be eligible. Unless they hold a passport from the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada or New Zealand, applicants normally need to do the IELTS test of English language ability and score a minimum of 6 in each band.

On top of this, if any dependent family members aged over 18 need to pay an English Language Charge (ELC) of $4,250 if they do not have at least functional English (4.5 average in the IELTS test).

Religious workers are exempt from the English language requirement. In addition, they do not need to pay the English Language Charge for dependent family members.

Skill Requirement

If applying in the "Direct Entry" stream, most ENS applicants need to first have their skills assessed before making a visa application.

Religious workers are exempt from this requirement, meaning they can be sponsored directly for a permanent visa without first needing to complete a skills assessment.

Age Requirement

The maximum age for RSMS and ENS visas is 49 in most cases.

This requirement is waived for religious workers.

Market Rate Salary

Most applicants for ENS and RSMS must show that they are to be paid the "market rate salary". This is determined by either providing salary details of an Australian working in an equivalent position in the business, or by providing research about salary levels in the general marketplace.

Religious organisations can count board and lodging, health, education, welfare and non-monetary benefits towards the required salary level.

Training Requirement for Employers

To sponsor for RSMS and ENS, most employers would need to show that they have spent at least 1% of payroll on training for Australians in the business. This can be a significant hurdle for some organisations, as in general on-the-job training cannot be counted towards the 1% requirement.

Organisations sponsoring religious workers are exempt from the training requirement.

Which Religious Workers are Covered?

In order to access the above concessions, the organisation must be sponsoring a religious worker for ENS or RSMS. This would include people in the occupation of Minister of Religion.

Under Department of Immigration policy, the person must be exercising "primarily religious duties". Typically this would include leading congregations in worship, administering rites and the sacraments and ministering to spiritual needs.

Positions which could be eligible include deacon, imam, minister of religion, monk, nun, brother/sister, pastor, priest, rabbi, and Salvation Army captain (religious duties).

Which Religious Organisations are Covered?

Only "religious institutions" as defined by the Migration Regulations are eligible for the above concessions.

The organisation must have been instituted for the promotion of a religious object, and in general must be tax-exempt under s.50-1 of the Income Tax Assessment Act.


The concessions for religious organisations in applying for ENS and RSMS visas are quite significant.

For organisations struggling to fill positions for religious workers from the Australian workforce, the possibility of sponsoring an overseas worker can be a great opportunity.

The ability to offer sponsorship for permanent residence in Australia can be a good inducement to attract qualified religious workers to Australia to fill shortages.

Please contact us if you would like more information on sponsoring religious workers.

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