This blog post, first published on November 6, 2022, at 08:23, has been updated on May 29, 2023, to ensure continued accuracy and comprehensiveness.
As Australia’s economy continues to grow, the demand for skilled workers in specific industries and regions has resulted in the development of the Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA).
This unique immigration pathway not only addresses local labour shortages but also presents promising opportunities for skilled and semi-skilled overseas workers to forge a long-term career in Australia and possibly gain permanent residency. In this post, we will guide you through the essentials of DAMA, its application process, and the most recent updates for 2023.
The Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA)
DAMA Australia provides a robust framework to attract overseas talent to Australia, covering more occupations than the standard skilled migration programs. Born out of negotiations between Australian states, territories, regional authorities, and the Australian Department of Home Affairs, this complex agreement addresses specific regional skill-shortage needs, tailored to economic and labour market conditions.
A key aspect of DAMA is its two-tier structure. The first tier is an overarching five-year deed of agreement (head agreement) with the region’s representative. This head agreement outlines a comprehensive range of occupations and sets the terms and conditions, including any concessions to skilled visa eligibility criteria. The second tier comprises individual labour agreements between the Australian Government and endorsed employers operating within the relevant designated region.
This framework ensures a level of continuity and stability for both the Australian business sponsor and the overseas workers, as agreements are generally in effect for five years. In addition, the agreement allows for certain concessions and requirements to be negotiated, providing flexibility to businesses to meet their specific needs.
Understanding DAMA Australia: A Pathway to Long-Term Employment
DAMA is not a visa itself but an agreement that enables businesses to sponsor overseas workers for Australian visas, providing a more streamlined pathway for skilled and semi-skilled workers to contribute to Australia’s workforce. Each executed DAMA agreement outlines the sponsorship obligations, location of employment, the approved nominated occupation, and the nomination ceiling allocated to the nominated occupation throughout the agreement’s life. Agreements are generally in effect for five years, ensuring continuity for the Australian business sponsor and the overseas workers.
The individual DAMA labour agreements primarily utilise the subclass 482 Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS), subclass 494 Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional), and subclass 186 Employer Nominated Scheme (ENS) visa programs.
To qualify for DAMA, businesses must have been operational within the designated area for at least 12 months and be economically viable. This framework ensures that the participating businesses are well-established and can uphold their obligations under the agreement.
2023 Updates and Changes in DAMA Australia
Several DAMAs underwent updates in 2023 to better meet the needs of their respective areas. For example, the Far North Queensland DAMA introduced changes like the removal of some unused occupations, the addition of new occupations, the elimination of some non-ANZSCO occupation options that had become obsolete, changes in age concessions, and more flexibility with English language concessions. Such changes serve to maintain the relevance and effectiveness of the DAMA in addressing regional labour market needs.
The South-West DAMA in Western Australia also saw changes this year, intending to fill key areas impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Victoria, the Goulburn Valley DAMA and the Great South Coast DAMA are continuously revised to meet the demands of their areas.
DAMA Occupation Overview
The Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) is one of the most popular skilled migration programs Australian regional employers use. The program allows employers to access a greater pool of overseas workers and offer visa sponsorship giving the foreign workers the right to remain in Australia for an extended period.
One of the pivotal aspects of DAMA is its ability to cater to a broader range of occupations compared to standard migration programs. Under DAMA, the Australian Government and the Designated Area representative negotiate to identify a list of occupations that need overseas workers the most. This list is crucial in the DAMA agreement as it determines the positions businesses can sponsor overseas workers for.
Each DAMA is uniquely designed to address the specific skill shortages of different professions, reflecting each region’s unique labour market conditions. By doing so, it ensures that the agreement effectively caters to the specific needs of the area, filling in vital gaps in the local workforce. As such, DAMA serves as a robust tool for long-term employment within Australia, especially in occupations that other migration programs may not sufficiently cover.
DAMA 2023: An Overview
As of 2023, 12 DAMA agreements are in place across Australia, each catering to specific regional needs and labour shortages. Here’s a snapshot of some of them:
DAMA South Australia: Includes two agreements, one focusing on Adelaide’s growing technology industries like Defence, Space, Technology, and advanced manufacturing industries, and the other focusing on regional high-growth industries such as Agribusiness.
DAMA Western Australia: The agreements here cater to various areas, like the East Kimberley and the Goldfields, each targeting specific occupational shortages.
DAMA Queensland: Two DAMAs are currently in effect in Queensland – the Far North Queensland DAMA and the Townsville North Queensland Destination Area Migration Agreement, each catering to the needs of their respective areas.
DAMA Victoria: This region has two DAMAs – the Goulburn Valley DAMA and the Great South Coast DAMA, catering to the specific needs of these areas.
DAMA Northern Territory: The Northern Territory DAMA is unique, encompassing an entire state area.
DAMA Orana, New South Wales: The Orana DAMA, focused on regional development, is the only existing agreement in New South Wales.
Each DAMA is tailored to its region’s needs, focusing on particular sectors or industries where there are shortages and where overseas workers can contribute most effectively. The list of occupations covered by each DAMA is regularly updated to reflect changing economic and labour market conditions.
- Adelaide City Technology and Innovation Advancement, SA: Skilled & Business Migration
- East Kimberley, WA: East Kimberley Chamber of Commerce and Industry
- Far North Queensland, QLD: Cairns Chamber of Commerce
- Goulburn Valley, VIC: Goulburn Valley
- Great South Coast, VIC: Warrnambool City Council
- Northern Territory, NT: Northern Territory Designated Area Migration Agreement
- Orana, NSW: Regional Development Australia – Orana, NSW
- Pilbara, WA: RDA Pilbara
- South Australia Regional, SA: Skilled & Business Migration
- South West, WA: Shire of Dardanup
- The Goldfields, WA: City of Kalgoorlie Boulder
- Townsville, QLD: Townsville Enterprise Limited
DAMA Nominated Occupations – Concessions under the DAMA program
The DAMA program introduces certain concessions to broaden eligibility for potential applicants, enabling them to apply for positions typically inaccessible under other visa subclasses or agreements. These concessions, implemented especially after the COVID-19 Pandemic, largely pertain to age and English language proficiency.
For instance, while most occupations generally impose an age limit of 45 years, the DAMA program allows flexibility. When highly skilled applicants are fulfilling niche positions, the age limit can be extended, permitting individuals older than 45 to be eligible for permanent residency.
Similarly, while English language comprehension remains a critical requirement, concessions are sometimes offered under the DAMA program. These English language concessions, dependent on the specific occupation within the DAMA Australia agreements list, aim to broaden eligibility and attract diverse talents.
Recognising the differences among various occupations and the requirements of different regions is crucial. These agreements are created in close collaboration with regional representatives, ensuring that the most needed occupations are prioritised, and the positions of importance are effectively filled.
How to Apply for Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA)
The Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) process is designed to ensure that hiring overseas skilled and semi-skilled workers through the DAMA program is only employed when local Australian talents cannot fill the required positions. If you’re an Australian employer/sponsor intending to apply for a DAMA, understanding the steps involved in this process is crucial.
To initiate the application, employers must first lodge an application with the local Designated Area Representative to ensure they meet all regional requirements. This step, referred to as “Endorsement,” necessitates the approval, or endorsement, of the employers seeking access to the program by the Designated Area Representative.
After receiving endorsement, the Designated Area Representative forwards a copy of the endorsement letter to the Department of Home Affairs. The employer can then proceed to lodge a labour agreement request online through Immiaccount, which outlines the requirements and supporting documentation needed for labour agreement requests. This platform provides a streamlined process, assisting employers in showcasing their workforce needs and confirming their alignment with the specific DAMA criteria.
A crucial point to understand is that DAMAs place Australian citizens and permanent residents as the priority for recruitment. Employers must demonstrate that they’ve made genuine attempts to recruit Australians before gaining access to a DAMA labour agreement. This underscores the principle that DAMA should only be employed when other local recruitment methods have failed to fill certain positions within a business, ensuring that it’s not to the detriment of potential local Australian employees.
Once approved, these individual DAMA Australia labour agreements remain valid for five years, allowing employers to hire overseas workers during this period.
DAMA Application Process and Processing Time
The DAMA Australia application process consists of three stages: labour agreement request, nomination, and visa application. The entire process, including endorsement application, labour agreement application, business nomination, and visa application, usually takes 4 to 6 months. If you’re planning to apply, it’s recommended to start the process as soon as possible. Consult with migration experts to guide you through each step, ensuring a smooth and successful application.
Most applicants apply for a DAMA Australia occupation through the subclass 482 Temporary Skill Shortage Visa or the subclass 494 Skilled Employer Sponsored (Regional) Visa, depending on the business needs and work experience requirements. Some DAMA programs also offer the opportunity for transition to permanent residency after a minimum of three years working under the sponsored visa, or an alternative option is to apply for a subclass 186 Employer Nominated Scheme Visa through the Labour Agreement stream.
To summarise, the DAMA Australia application process involves the following steps:
- Application for endorsement from the regional area representative to access Labour agreement under DAMA.
- Receipt of endorsement and forwarding the endorsement letter to the Department of Home Affairs.
- Employer’s application for Labour Agreement via Immiaccount.
- Identification of overseas workers by the employer.
- Overseas workers applying for skills assessment (if required by the nominated occupation).
- Lodgement of applicants’ nomination.
- Lodgement of visa application.
It’s essential to understand that even with regional area endorsement, the Australian Government doesn’t guarantee the granting of a Labour Agreement. Lodgement fees apply to endorsement, business nomination, and 482 visa applications. As the process can be intricate, it’s highly advisable to consult with migration experts who can guide you through each step, ensuring a smooth and successful application.
The Role of Experienced Migration Specialists and Thorough Research in the DAMA Process
Navigating the Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) process, with its complex requirements and concessions, often benefits from the expertise of an experienced migration specialist. For applicants who may not fit the typical profile, such as those older, with a lower level of English proficiency, or with limited work experience, understanding the specific requirements for each occupation under DAMA Australia becomes even more critical.
The 12 active DAMA programs within Australia each have their unique requirements, and it’s crucial to understand these specifics when considering a nominated occupation. Ensure that you meet the criteria for the visa or the position you’re applying for, and verify if you are eligible for any concessions.
Keep in mind that the approval process for the visa applicant aligns with the application for the standard visa subclass type. The timeframe to complete a DAMA Australia process typically ranges from 4-6 months, so it’s vital to lodge complete and correct applications for endorsement, labour agreement, skills assessment, business nomination, and the visa application.
An often overlooked but equally crucial part of the process is researching the region you’re considering. Australia is a diverse country, with each region offering different lifestyles, surroundings, and facilities. Understanding the area where you’ll be working and living will help you decide if it suits your needs beyond just work.
For a detailed assessment of your eligibility to apply under a Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA), we recommend contacting our team of experienced registered migration agents. You can reach us by completing our visa questionnaire.
Understanding Your Prospective Regional Area in Australia
As an applicant for a skilled work visa under a DAMA Australia program, it is highly recommended to conduct comprehensive research about the region where you’ll be employed before committing to sponsorship.
Australia is renowned for its diversity, with each region boasting its unique characteristics. Some areas offer coastal lifestyles while others encapsulate the charm of traditional rural landscapes. Therefore, it is paramount that you, as an overseas worker, understand whether the region aligns with your lifestyle preferences and needs beyond your professional commitments.
The suitability of the region can significantly influence your overall experience, impacting not only your work but also your quality of life. For instance, access to certain facilities, the local community, recreational opportunities, and other regional aspects could be factors to consider in your decision.
To assess your and your prospective employer’s eligibility under a Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA), we invite you to contact our team of experienced registered migration agents based in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Please complete our visa questionnaire here for a detailed assessment.
Navigating DAMA: Final Considerations
DAMA Australia serves as a testament to Australia’s commitment to addressing regional labour shortages and fostering economic growth. By offering overseas workers an opportunity to contribute their skills in areas where they are most needed, DAMA ensures mutual benefits for all involved. It offers skilled and semi-skilled overseas workers an opportunity to establish a long-term career, providing a pathway to permanent residency.
Understanding the specifics of the DAMA, and its application process, and staying updated with the latest changes are crucial to successfully navigating this pathway. If you’re considering applying, make sure to stay updated with the latest changes and consult with migration experts to guide you through the process.