Recently, South Australia added a number of new occupations to its Skilled Nominated Occupation List (SNOL) – a list designed to help address skill shortages within South Australia by supplementing the affected industries with greater access to skilled migrants. Among the additions was cookery, a profession which has been in dire shortage across the state for some time now.

According to current policy, it is now possible for an international student in Australia to obtain residency by working as a professional cook.  The qualifications required are a Certificate 3 and 4 in commercial cookery, which once completed enable the graduate to live and work here in South Australia.

However when it comes to obtaining residency, there are significant differences in the level of requirements that need to be fulfilled, depending on what type of visa it is they are applying for. For example:

  • To apply for a 457 visa: A student will need to have completed a Certificate 3 and 4 in cookery, as well as meeting all the relevant guidelines for a 457 visa (such as finding an employer willing to sponsor them at a wage above the minimum salary threshold).
  • To apply for a General Skilled Migration (GSM) visa: The student must complete a preliminary skill assessment with Trade Recognition Australia, as well as 12 months full-time supervised work placement and a formal trade test.
  • To apply for a Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) visa: The student needs to have completed a Certificate 3, and have 2 years full-time work experience following the completion of their study.

One occupation. Three different visa types, three different processes.  If this seems a little strange be assured that you’re not alone, the inconsistency of the guidelines is enough to stagger even the most experienced of migration agents.

Complicating the issue further has been the removal of post-study work rights for international students in the VET sector.  The removal means that even if a student has completed a Certificate 3 and 4 and a Diploma in commercial cookery and hospitality, there is no way for that person to fulfil the full-time work experience criterion for either the RSMS or GSM permanent residency visa.

Whilst there is the opportunity for an applicant to obtain a 457 visa and gather the necessary work experience for a permanent residency visa, the current minimum salary requirement (known as the TSMIT) of $53,900 is significantly higher than what most international graduates could expect to earn, and what most employers would be prepared to pay for a recent graduate.

The dilemma is causing significant problems for students and employers alike. However with a review of the 457 program currently being undertaken, an opportunity to simplify the situation does exist.

How a review of the 457 program could help

Currently there is a review of the 457 program being undertaken, with one of the potential changes being discussed centred on the possibility of lowering the minimum salary level for the 457 visa, as well as lowering the  English-language requirements.

South Australia has a reputation for diversity and excellence in our food culture, and such changes would benefit not only skilled migrants themselves, but also local employers, the customers they serve and the local economy to which they are contributing by allowing more migrants to come in under a 457 visa.

Changes to the programme are needed by many restaurants in South Australia, so that they can continue to provide high quality of service to their patrons.  The current inability for international students to remain in Australia as cooks (as well as many other trade-based occupations) is detrimental to our local economy, and has a negative impact on population growth.  Shortages of cooks, and in particular those specialising in regional cuisines, will continue to grow until the issue is properly addressed.

The recommendations of the 457 review will make for very interesting reading. As for us in South Australia, it’s time we started considering the long-term economic benefits skilled migration has to offer our state, not just for migrants and their employers, but everyone.

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