The DAMA program is currently a very hot topic, with many business owners currently interested in seeking migrant workers through the program or pursuing Australian migration through the program.
DAMAs are great for regional employers, as they facilitate filling skilled and semi-skilled positions which are facing a labour shortage in a designated area. They are adapted to the needs of the local economy and allow business’ to access the workers they need.
For overseas workers, the DAMAs present an opportunity for work and migration for workers who may not otherwise have access to the TSS and ENS programs. Skilled and semi-skilled workers in occupations which are not on the Short-Term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) and Medium and Long-Term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL) may be able to access skilled Australian migration through the DAMA program.
What Is A DAMA?
A DAMA is an agreement arranged by a designated area’s government (such as the NT Government) and the federal government. Employers in the designated area can apply for a streamlined labour agreement to sponsor overseas workers for their business if they are unable to fill the position locally.
What Areas Have A DAMA?
Currently, the only DAMA actively accepting applications is the Northern Territory Designated Area Migration Agreement Mark 2 (“NT DAMA Mk II”). It is Mk II as it replaced the previous Northern Territory’s DAMA.
Warrnambool in regional Victoria has been approved for a DAMA, but this has not yet open for applications. Warrnambool City Council has indicated that details of this DAMA will be released in the first quarter of 2019, so we expect more information will be available soon.
Also, there are potentially more areas to be added in the near future including, Orana region of NSW, Pilbara and the Kalgoorlie-Boulder regions in WA, as well as Cairns in Far North Queensland.
Recent reports by the Advertiser indicated that a DAMA visa is also expected soon for South Australia immigration.
What Visa Are Included With The DAMA Program?
The DAMA program uses the “labour agreement” stream of the Temporary Skills Shortage visa (“TSS”) subclass 482 and the Employer Nomination Scheme (“ENS”) subclass 186 visa. Availability of each type depends upon the rules of the particular DAMA which applies.
For the Northern Territory, (the only designated area accepting applications at the time of publication) you can apply for the 186 visa under the DAMA stream if you have spent 3 of the last 4 years working for an employer on a TSS visa under the DAMA program. This requires your employer to nominate you for the permanent visa as well.
As such, the permanent ENS 186 visa is not accessible directly through the DAMA program.
The advantage over TRT for 187 and 186 is the concessions at the TSS stage, as well as the freedom to move between different DAMA sponsors in the NT, without resetting the time needed to reach the 3 years for permanent sponsorship. NT DAMA TSS holders can apply to become a permanent resident after 3 years working on an NT DAMA visa.
We expect that the other proposed DAMAs will include similar pathways to PR, based on the model created by the NT government.
What Concessions Are Available Within The DAMA?
As indicated above, the NT DAMA Mk II is the only DAMA which (at the time of publication) has published their guidelines. The DAMA visa requirements consist of concessions based on the original requirements of either the TSS or ENS visa depending on which visa you are applying through.
While the requirements of the short-term and medium-term streams of the TSS 482 visa can be difficult for regional businesses (as their requirements are designed to fit capital cities, as well as regional areas) the DAMA program includes concessions adapted to the conditions of the local labour market. Essentially, the DAMA requirements are to assist in processing applicants to regional areas that may not be able to fulfill the TSS or ENS criteria.
The concessions available under the NT DAMA include:
- English requirement concessions (IELTS overall 5 with a minimum of 5.6 in speaking and listening only, NO minimum requirement for writing and reading)
- Skills concessions for certain occupations
- Broader occupation lists compared to the TSS short-term and medium-term lists. These are more adapted to the local needs of NT businesses
- Employment conditions are better aligned with local conditions – more flexibility in employment contracts compared to the rigid requirements for short-term and medium-term stream TSS.
- 10% TSMIT Concession (the requirement for annual salary to be no less than $53,900 is not appropriate for all occupations, so an adjusted minimum of $4,8510* applies to NT DAMA Mk II)
It is difficult to say which concessions will be available in the Warrnambool and South Australian DAMAs, however, we expect to see similar flexibility to better meet the practical needs of local employers and to facilitate migration of skilled workers in local occupation shortages.
*Note: for TSMIT concessions, all skilled migrants within the DAMA must still be paid the same or more as an Australian worker that would be doing the same occupation.
Does The Skilling Australians Fund Levy Apply To A DAMA Visa?
Yes, nomination applications for a TSS or ENS under the labour agreement stream attract the Skilling Australians Fund (“SAF”) levy unless the nominated occupation is for a religious worker.
For a TSS DAMA, the SAF will be $1,200 per year for a business with a turnover of less than $10 million and $1,800 for a business with a turnover of $10 million or more.
For an ENS DAMA, the SAF will be $3,000 flat for a business with a turnover of less than $10 million and $5,000 flat for a business with a turnover of $10 million or more.
What Are The Steps For A TSS DAMA Visa?
Applying for a visa under the DAMA program is a 4-step process.
The below is tailored to the NT program, however, similar steps would apply once another designated area is open for applications.
- The sponsoring business applies to the designated area body (such as the Northern Territory Department of Trade, Business, and Innovation “DBTI”) for endorsement of your business’ labour agreement
- The sponsoring business applies to the Department of Home Affairs for a labour agreement
- The sponsoring business applies to the Department of Home Affairs for the nomination of an individual worker under the labour agreement
- The worker applies for a TSS 482 visa under the labour agreement stream
What Are The Costs Involved In The TSS DAMA?
At the time of publication, the costs for all stages of an NT DAMA TSS application are:
- Cost to apply for NT endorsement of labour agreement: Nil
- Cost to request a labour agreement: $420
- Department of Home Affairs labour agreement stream nomination charge: $330
- Skilling Australians Fund levy (due when lodging nomination application
Department of Home Affairs visa application charges:
- A base of $2,455
- $2,455 for each additional applicant over 18
- $615 for each additional applicant under 18
As we have commented on the past in our review of 2018 and forecast for 2019, we expect to see more DAMAs appearing in different regional Australian areas. The DAMA is an attractive tool for regional areas to remedy labour shortages and support their local businesses who are unable to find the labour they need to best carry on their business.
Do You Need Help With An Australian Visa Application?
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