Effective last 18 April 2015, Australia changed its guidelines on English – language testing requirements for visa applicants of primary Subclass 457. The change in guidelines included an adjustment in the required minimum scores for English testing and allowed providers to implement their own tests. For immigrants who are in the process of planning relocation to Australia, this is seen as a welcome development. If you are using a Migration Agent, he or she must be well-versed with these changes.

These are the revisions made on the requirements for the English language for Subclass 457:

  1. Expansion to consider other English language tests for Subclass 457;
  2. Adapt an overall English language test score in addition to minimum scores for individual components such as reading, writing, listening and speaking;
  3. Amend the requirement for an “exempt applicant” from completing at least 5 consecutive years of full-time study in a secondary or a higher educational institution where English was the primary medium of instruction to 5 years of cumulative study.

With the change in its guidelines, the Australian government has given prospective employers and visa applicants greater flexibility in complying with English language requirements. These changes are in line with the Australian government’s efforts to overhaul the Subclass 457 visa program based on findings detailed by an independent committee and published in a report last September 2014.

The changes are also seen as exerting a positive influence on business as highly qualified foreign nationals now have more options to qualify for the requirements for English language before commencing work in Australia.

The following tests are acceptable measures of proficiency in the English language:

  • International English Language Testing System or IELTS; overall average score of 5, with a minimum score of at least 4.5 in each competency.
  • Occupational English Test or OET; a “B pass” is required on all competencies of the OET.
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet – based test or TOEFL iBT; a total score of 36 on all four competencies with at least 3 in Listening and Reading and 12 in Speaking and Writing.
  • Pearson Test of English Academics or PTE; Average band score of 36 with a least 30 in each competency.
  • Cambridge English: Advanced Test or CAE; Average competency score of 154 with a minimum of 147 in each competency.

Under the former provisions of Subclass 457, a minimum score of 5 in the four competencies of the IELTS was required. The four components were reading, writing, listening and speaking. With the new guidelines, effective 18 April 2015, an average score of 5 across all the competencies will be considered as “passing”.

The results of these tests will be valid for three years. An exception would be the Cambridge English: Advanced Test or CAE which must have been taken after 01 January 2015.

Other significant changes that took effect on 18 April 2016 with relation to Subclass 457 involved the Recognised Graduate visas (Subclass 476) and Temporary Graduate visa (Subclass 485).

For these two subclasses, an average IELTS score of 6 or its equivalent in another acceptable test across all four competencies will be considered passing as long as the applicant does not score lower than IELTS 5 on each competency. Before the changes were implemented, applicants had to score at least an IELTS 6 on each competency.

The Australian government also identified exemptions to the English requirement. These are as follows:

  • The base rate of pay is $96,400.
  • Any applicant who is a citizen and whose passport was issued by:
  • The United Kingdom;
  • The United States;
  • New Zealand;
  • Canada;
  • The Republic of Ireland.
  • Any applicant who has completed at least five years of full-time study in a secondary and/or higher level educational institution where the instruction was delivered in English.

The 2014 report of the independent committee made a total of 22 recommendations that could improve facilitation of the Subclass 457 program and minimize incidents of abuse.

In addition to English – language testing, these recommendations touched on the following areas:

  • The government abolished training benchmarks and replaced them with annual training fund contributions. These funds will be used to train Australians in the job market.
  • Amount of fees. Structure of fees will be renewed particularly for secondary visa and visa renewal applicants.
  • Sponsor approval. Standard business sponsors will be approved for five years and start up business sponsors for up to 18 months.
  • Processing time. The aim of the program is to streamline processing time.
  • Eligibility for other programs. Holders of Subclass 457 visa will be required to work for a minimum of two years before being declared eligible for the Employer Nomination Scheme or Regional Migration Nomination Scheme.
  • Information Sharing. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection will share information with the Australian Taxation Office to monitor the performance of the 457 program.

The Australian government’s strong show of support to many of the independent committee’s recommendations is largely viewed as an encouraging development for employers who strictly abide with the provisions of Subclass 457.

Of particular interest are some of the abusive practices which include acceptance of payments by sponsors from visa applicants to secure “favorable outcomes” on their application. The provisions of Subclass 457 have been strengthened by requiring sponsors or prospective employers to declare that they will not participate in discriminatory recruitment practices.

The guidelines have been re-written to encourage more responsible behavior from sponsors. They should maintain records to prove how Subclass 457 visa applicants were recruited and that the process did not in any way discriminate according to citizenship or visa status.

The changes sought and eventually implemented by the Australian government is a clear sign of its commitment to encourage skilled migrants to build a career and start a life in Australia. The government has pro- actively worked toward alleviating the difficulties and challenges immigrants face when applying for the Subclass 457 visa.

Immigrants who are not familiar with these revisions in Subclass 457 should contract the services of a reputable Migration Agent for further guidance and assistance.