Is Sponsoring Skilled Immigrants Really That Complicated?

Australia - Agribusiness Recruiting - Agricultural Appointments
By Phillip Silver, Solicitor Registered Migration Agent (MARN 0957639) in New South Wales. Phillip has 25 years of experience as a lawyer in Australia and South Africa. Phillip represents  Australian Farming enterprises to sponsor skilled  farmers from South Africa to work on Australian farms.

I read with interest the article in a recent edition of Agricultural Appointments by Professor Jock Collins that immigrant farmers fill the growing intergenerational gap in farm succession and bring with them new technologies and innovations to Australian farming.

In the 2019 Financial Year, the Department of Home Affairs received over 35,000 applications from Australian businesses sponsoring skilled workers. However , only 880 sponsorship applications were from the agricultural sector. The agricultural industry must realise that their businesses too can benefit from overseas skilled workers who can fill the labour gaps  with the skill knowledge and enthusiasm they bring with them into Australia.

The Australian Federal Government has acknowledged that the Agricultural sector is facing a shortage of skilled local labour. Most sponsored overseas farmers from overseas can work in Australia for 4 years at a time  with a possibility of the Australian businesses sponsoring the foreign worker for permanent residence in Australia.

The opportunities for Australian farming businesses to sponsor skilled immigrants to work in regional areas has been made more attractive by the recent introduction of Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA). This is a formal agreement between the Australian Federal Government and select State Governments to support the Businesses in the regional area to fill their labour needs.

Many Australian farm owners are reluctant to sponsor overseas skilled workers as they perceive the process to be difficult especially when the farming enterprise has never embarked on the sponsorship process.

This article attempts to explain the sponsorship process on the Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) Subclass 482  visa program. The three applications are as follows:

  1. Australian businesses who seek to fill their skilled labour shortages must first be approved as Standard Business Sponsors by the Department of Home Affairs (DOHA).
  • This is a once-off application and allows the entity to sponsor overseas workers for 5 years. The Sponsorship status is renewable thereafter.
  • The application fee payable to DOHA is $420.
  1. The Australian business must nominate an occupation on the relevant occupation list which it requires to be filled by the overseas worker.
  • There are approximately 650 occupations available for the TSS program.
  • The annual salary offered for the position must be equivalent to an Australian worker performing the same role OR commensurate with market salary. The salary be market related and must be at least $53,900 + 9.5% superannuation.
  • The Australian business must provide evidence that it has tested the Australian local labour to fill the position. Labour Market Testing (job adverts) must be carried out for at least 28 days.
  • The application fee payable to DOHA is $330.
  • The Skilling Australia Fund Levy is also payable to DOHA. For businesses with an annual turnover of less than $10mil, the levy is $1200 per year for each year the business seeks to sponsor the overseas worker. For businesses with an annual turnover $10mil or more, the levy is $1800 per year for each year.
  1. The overseas worker must apply for the Visa.
  • The visa application is where the overseas worker applies for the Visa on the basis of their skills and experience to perform the occupation nominated. The overseas worker must also show that they meet English language proficiency levels.
  • TSS visa holders must only work in the nominated occupation and only work for their Sponsor.
  • The overseas worker can include their family unit (spouse/partner and dependent children) in this application to enable their family to live together in Australia.
  • The overseas worker (and their family unit included in the visa application) must provide evidence that they meet character and health requirements before they are granted the TSS visas.
  • The application fees payable to DOHA are as follows:
    • Medium-term / Regional occupations (this applies to most farming occupations)
      • Applicant aged 18 and above: $2,645
      • Applicant under 18 years: $660
    • Short-term occupations
      • Applicant aged 18 and above: $1,265
      • Applicant under 18 years: $321

Note: The visa fees can be paid for by the overseas worker. The sponsorship and nomination fees must be paid by the sponsoring business.

Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA)

The Australian Federal Government has made it clear with the introduction of DAMA that it is aware of the skilled and semi-skilled labour shortages that regional employers are facing.

The DAMA enables Australian employers in designated regional areas to sponsor skilled and semi-skilled workers on the TSS visa. There are additional occupations not otherwise available on the MTSSL, ROL or STSOL.

The DAMA designated areas are currently:

  • Northern Territory:
  • The Goldfields, WA:
  • Great South Coast, VIC:
  •  Adelaide City and Regional South Australia
  • Orana, NSW:
  •  Far North Queensland
  1. The Employer first must be endorsed by the relevant State or Territory Government to access the DAMA.
  2. The sponsoring employer can nominate skilled and semi-skilled occupations it requires to be filled by overseas workers. These occupations available are specific to each designated area. There may be concessions available for the minimum salary to be offered to the overseas worker (there is no concession on the TSS program). Concessions are specific to each designated area.
  3. The DAMA may have concessions for skills, experience and English proficiency. Applicants may be required to have their skills and experience assessed by a skills assessing body. Concessions are specific to each designated area.

The Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional(subclass 494) visa

This subclass 494 visa is a regional employer-sponsored visa. The 3-stage process of sponsorship (where the Sponsorship, Nomination and Visa applications are similar as outlined above for the TSS program). The key difference in criteria are as follows:

  1. Regional areas are defined as any area excluding Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
  2. Employers must obtain certification from the Regional Certifying Body in support of their nomination applications.
  3. Overseas skilled workers intending to apply for the subclass 494 visa must (unless exemptions apply)
    1. be under 45 years old
    2. obtain appropriate skills assessments for their nominated occupation
    3. meet minimum English proficiency
    4. have at least 3 years of experience working in their nominated occupation.
  4. The Subclass 494 visa period is 5 years.
    1. Visa holders must live, work and study only in regional areas.
    2. Visa holders will also be unable to apply for most other skills based visas in Australia unless they have completed at least three years in a designated regional area, unless exceptional circumstances exist.
    3. Visa holders can access Medicare and may be able to access schooling for their children without having to pay for exorbitant international school fees.
    4. Visa holders can apply for permanent residence after 3 years of living in the regional area and working for their Australian employer/sponsor. For this permanent residence application, the visa holder can apply directly to DOHA without their Australian employer/sponsor having to nominated them for permanent residence

The Government fee for the subclass 494 visa is $4,045  for the primary applicant, $2.025 for additional  applicants over 18,  and $1.010 for applicants under 18.   These visa  fees can be paid for by the employee.


There are various visa options for the farming sector to fill  the shortage of skilled labour. For the uninformed, the perception of sponsoring overseas employees seems like difficult process. My advice is for Farm Owners to get advice from expert Migration Agents.  If the right skill set cannot be found locally, then the Australian farming enterprise should follow the lead of the other sectors and sponsor skilled overseas employees. We advise our sponsoring clients  that potential employees must show their commitment up front by meeting threshold requirements and travel to Australia to be interviewed (to demonstrate effort and commitment to the process)

In my experience  sponsored farmers from South Africa will pay for the visa application fees for themselves and their families (they should have skin in the game). This shows the commitment of the employees and  of course also minimises the cost to the sponsoring employers

For the South African farmers who I represent, the level of appreciation for the opportunity  to hang up his guns, escape the criminals who are murdering and harming them at an alarming rate,  and be sponsored to work  on a farm in Australia, to live safely with his family, would be rewarded  to the Australian sponsor  with hard work and loyalty so that the cost incurred  by the Australian farming enterprise is money well spent. There is a saying -if you want loyalty buy a dog. I say if you want loyalty sponsor a South African farmer.

For more information on sponsoring skilled migrants, contact

Phillip Silver
Solicitor & Migration Agent (MARN 0957639)
Australia and South Africa

T: +61 2 9708 5954
M: 0406 115 895


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