24 March 2009

Important changes to Australian skilled-sponsored visas for ACT and NT

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The Canberra (ACT) and Northern Territory (NT) governments have made important changes to their State/Territory skilled-sponsored migration programs, including removing occupations from their skills-in-demand lists. The announcement comes at a time when the Federal Government announced a reduction, and more targeted approach, to the Australian skilled migration program, affecting thousands of Australian skilled migration visa applications.

The Australian skilled-sponsored visa program entitles State/Territory governments to nominate Australian temporary residents or prospective migrants who have skills recognised as being high in demand in that State/Territory.  This nomination reduces the required pass-mark from 120 to 100 as well as also giving an extra 10 points for the actual nomination – so it is an option for those who can score 90 points or more under the usual points test.  It is still a permanent Australian visa although the applicant has undertaken to live and work for the first two years in the nominating State/Territory. 

On the 16th March 2009, the Federal Government announced that the Australian skilled migration program would be cutback from 133,500 skilled visas to 115,000 visas, and that it would remove occupations from the Critical Skills List (CSL) so that it would better reflect the essential needs of the Australian economy. 

The Canberra (ACT) skilled migration department and Northern Territory (NT) skilled migration department have followed suit.  Both governments have removed a number of occupations from their demand lists, with the ACT taking it a step further by capping a number of occupations and amending its procedures for subclass 176 and subclass 886 visas.

While ACT has removed just five occupations from its Skills in Demand List for State/Territory sponsorship (including fitter, metal machinist, metal fabricator, welder first class, and sheet metalworker), the NT has removed a massive 51 occupations from its Skills in Demand List, and added 32 new occupations.  This means that the NT government has carried only seven occupations over from its old list to its new list. 

Those occupations removed from the NT's skills in demand list followed ACT's example, while also removing occupations from the health, hospitality and trades sectors, including nurses, chefs, hairdressers, plumbers, bricklayers, and carpenters.

The new list for the NT government now focuses on the engineering, construction, specialist health and information technology occupations, including 16 differentiated computing professional occupations, quantity surveyors, dermatologists, and emergency medicine specialists.  A comprehensive skills shortage list can be found on the Northern Territory Business and Skilled Migration website.

While the NT has not commented on its changes, the ACT expects its new list would remain unchanged until July, when it receives results from the ACT Skills Survey.  Until this time, the ACT Skilled and Business Migration Department has said that the Chief Minister can make amendments to the Skills in Demand List, if deemed necessary.

The capping of a number of occupations on the ACT Skills in Demand List has created an obstacle for migration agents and prospective migrants trying to use the state-sponsorship pathway to migration.  Not only is the ACT migration department holding capped occupations open for only a month, it needs agents to check that there are still places available before lodging an application, causing prospective migrants to miss the boat if they cannot get their application together in time.

Changes to the ACT procedures mean that, for applicants already in Australia on temporary visas, the ACT will now be giving priority to those skilled applicants who are already living and working in Canberra.  Interstate residents must prove they are committed to residing in Canberra first by moving to Canberra, and living and working in a nominated occupation for at least three months before applying for nomination.

The ACT has also made changes to the English-language ability levels for applicants applying for the managers and administrators, professionals, associate professionals, and trades occupations. 

Further, all computing professional applicants must prove they have at least one years' relevant work experience in the nominated occupation by having their skills assessed by approved organisations in the ACT.

In addition, from the 01 July 2009, Canberra graduates applying under the subclass 886 skilled-sponsored visa must have at least three months work experience in a skilled occupation, while interstate graduate applicants must meet ACT residency requirements and have three months ACT work experience in the nominated occupation. 

Lauren Mennie, registered migration agent and casework department manager at the Australian Visa Bureau, said that while changes to Australian skilled visa programs can never be without complication, the ACT has worked hard to keep complications to a minimum.

"With so many applicants actively considering their State Sponsored Options, the volatility of the lists is not helping what is a very difficult situation.  The openness of the ACT in advising of these changes and giving as much of an assurance as is possible that the list will remain unchanged for a few months is welcome." 

"This gives applicants a bit of confidence that they are not wasting their time in applying and that their occupation is unlikely to be taken off the shortage lists overnight without warning." 

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people with emigrating to Australia.

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