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Australia: Major win for university staff as ‘457’ visa eligibility relaxed

Restoring medical research roles into the eligible occupation list allows Australia's research institutes to remain globally competitive, according to Cunningham. Source: Shutterstock

Lecturers, vice-chancellors and other leading staff members in Australian universities can now breathe sighs of relief as the government has restored the four-year visas with a pathway to permanent residency for this particular group, Times Higher Education reports.

In a reversal to the changes made to the popular visa for skilled migrants in April, the Turnbull government last week announced university staff have been added back into the Medium and Long-term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL). The new changes took effect on July 1, 2017.

Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson welcomed the announcement, saying it sends an “important signal of reassurance to an estimated 3,000 researchers and university staff on current 457 visas who had faced an uncertain future”.

“Australia needs policy settings that allow us to remain competitive, and ensure we are able to snap up the best global talent to work alongside our brilliant homegrown researchers.”

Scientific, technical and professional occupations are now listed as eligible occupations in the MLTSSL as well. However, university tutors, real estate agents and psychotherapists have been removed from all lists of eligible occupations.

Earlier this year, the government axed the 457 visa, replaced immediately by two new visas – short and medium-long term – based on skills shortages in the community. Chief executives and university lecturers were listed as occupations on the short-term list, with no access to a pathway to permanent residency.

Universities cried foul over the move as a significant portion of their current and future staff rely on the older visa system to conduct research in the country. Adding to the confusion, no details were given on whether high-level research or a PhD will count in the two years’ “work experience” criterion applicants must prove to obtain the work visa.

According to Universities Australia’s statement, the Australian government has now given a commitment PhD studies will count as “work experience” when applying for new skilled visas.

Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes president Prof Tony Cunningham said restoring medical research roles into the eligible occupation list allowed the country’s research institutes to remain globally competitive.

Giving foreign scientists “certainty they need to continue their work” allows them to make the “tremendous discoveries” to the benefit of Australia’s health, Cunningham told SBS.

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