Australian General Skilled Migration program suspended: Our reaction

The offshore Australian GSM program has
been suspended until at least 1 July, 2010.

The Australian Government has today announced that they will not accept applications for offshore general skilled visas, with this unprecedented measure taking effect from midnight 7 May, 2010. The temporary suspension will then remain in place until the end of the current program year on 30 June, 2010.

You can read the announcement here, where the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) state the following:

"The Australian Government has decided to temporarily suspend the acceptance of new applications for certain General Skilled Migration (GSM) visas. The number of pending GSM applications continues to grow as the demand for GSM places exceeds the available supply. The temporary suspension is being implemented to ensure that the occupational profile of applicants for GSM clearly reflects the needs of the Australian labour market.

The temporary suspension will also facilitate the transition from the current Skilled Occupation List (SOL) to the new SOL. It is anticipated that the Government will announce proposed changes to the SOL in May 2010.

The temporary suspension will apply from 8 May 2010. It is expected that it will cease at the end of the 2009-10 program year, that is at the end of 30 June 2010, subject to the approval of the Governor-General in Council of proposed amendments to the Migration Regulations 1994 which will enable the implementation of the new SOL.

Temporary suspension means that people will not be able to lodge a valid application for an affected GSM visa for the duration of the suspension. The temporary suspension applies to all primary (main) applicants for the following GSM visas:

  • Subclass 175 – Skilled Independent
  • Subclass 176 – Skilled Sponsored and
  • Subclass 475 – Skilled Regional Sponsored.

Applications for affected visa subclasses submitted on or after 8 May 2010 will be considered invalid and the application will be returned to the client together with the Visa Application Charge (VAC). However, associated fees such as those incurred for medical examinations, English language tests and skills assessments cannot be refunded as these payments were not made to the Government.

Applications for visa subclasses affected by the temporary suspension will be able to be made once the suspension has been lifted."

What does this mean for the future of the Australian Skilled Visa Program?

We had hoped that the time of knee-jerk Australian immigration decisions had come to an end. With the announcement of the new visa changes made on 8 February, 2010, it appeared that DIAC and the Australian government were taking a more transparent approach to the implementation of new legislation, with changes announced in advance of their introduction to seemingly allow visa applicants at least some time to finalise and lodge their application.

With this announcement though, any fleeting confidence we had in the Australian government's willingness to 'play fair' has been completely undermined. By abandoning their stated plans and making such a shocking announcement, they have completely undermined the efforts of all Australian skilled visa applicants, with this latest move essentially damning the hopes of many potential migrants.

I expect that this announcement also took the Australian States and Territories by surprise, and it will be interesting to see how they react to it given that they are in the midst of preparing the new State Migration Plans. Unfortunately, regardless of how much time, money and effort is spent by visa applicants or any other immigration stakeholders, the message being sent here is that it simply doesn't matter to the Australian government.

Additionally, when you take into account DIAC's failure to meet the 30 April deadline they set for the introduction of the new Australian SOL, it makes it almost impossible to put any faith in the timelines that they set. While they might indicate now that the GSM program will be opened again on 1 July, 2010, there still isn't any solid commitment to this deadline, making it very difficult for visa applicants and migration agents to prepare for the future. 

- Lauren Mennie is Casework Department Manager for the Australian Visa Bureau.