Australian visa priority processing and reactions to DIAC's latest announcement

DIAC recently announced changes to the Skilled Migration programme, and specifically the order in which visa applications will be processed. This announcement came following the introduction of the Critical Skills List (CSL) in December 2008, a new list of occupations which is designed to be responsive in fulfilling the needs of the Australian economy and which has been used to determine the priority of applications since January 1st, 2009.

As a result, the current order of applications is as follows:

  1. Applicants for state or territory Government sponsored visas (i.e. Skilled State Sponsored subclass 176 and Skilled Regional State Sponsored 475 visa applications);
  2. Applicants with occupations on the CSL;
  3. Applicants with occupations on the Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL);
  4. All other valid visa applications.

Why has DIAC introduced this process?

The current global economic climate is likely to have had some influence, and for some time now the Australian Immigration system has been under pressure to reduce the number of immigrants entering the country. This is despite still needing migrants in order to fulfil a variety of occupations which are still in demand in various areas of the country.

In short, I think the case is that the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has been compelled to show the country that they are assisting with fulfilling the skills shortages in certain areas and in certain occupations. It seems to be very much a political and economic move, and to what degree this will become effective in real terms is as yet unclear.

How should I take this news?

While the message of this notification might immediately appear daunting to some visa applicants, I think it's important that we establish exactly what it means. The notification itself seemed confused and had some errors; for example, a subclass 175 visa was listed under the heading of 'state sponsored visas', when the defining feature of a subclass 175 is that it is completely independent and does not require any kind of sponsorship.

Additionally, while DIAC have specified February 13th, 2009 as the date by which all state sponsored visa applications will be allocated a case officer, DIAC (like any government organisation with large-scale admin responsibilities) is prone to slipping on deadlines.

However, I can appreciate that many applicants will remain curious as to how this announcement will affect them and their application. With this in mind, I'd like to give my own opinions as to how I think applicants for the various skilled migrant subclasses should react to this news.

State 176 / State 475 visa applicants who have already lodged to DIAC

If you have lodged your State 176/475 visa application, then by this announcement, your application should be allocated to a case officer by February 13th. However, we do not know to what limit this extends to; for example, we're still not sure if people who lodge their applications in early February will be included in this wave of processing, or even if that priority allocation will continue past February 13th.

Also, if you do not hear back about your application by this time, it doesn't necessarily mean that yours is not included in this wave of processing, just that it may still be placed into a queue before being assessed.

All other skilled visa applicants who have already lodged to DIAC

If you have lodged an alternative kind of visa, then according to this announcement, your application will not be allocated until the state applications are dealt with. I must stress that until some time has passed and we can begin to see patterns and trends in how applications are processed and whether these new rules seem to be adhered to, Visa Bureau cannot give any solid timeframes or confirm whether your application will be affected - you may well find that it won't be.

Visa applicants who have yet to lodge to DIAC

If you are yet to submit your application to DIAC, I would advise that you aim to lodge your application with as little delay as possible. As with every application, it is preferable to lodge as soon as you can in order to allow for the best chance of avoiding any potential delays or changes.

It may be possible that you would prefer to lodge a State Sponsored subclass 176 visa, as opposed to the subclass that you are currently applying for (provided your occupation is on the Priority Skills state list for the state which you are intending to migrate to).

It's also important to understand that this is an extra aspect to the application, and in some cases can require additional fees and paperwork to be submitted, not to mention the fact that you will be under the moral obligation to live within your sponsored state for the first 2 years of your migration to Australia.

Additionally, it may prove unnecessary to switch to a state sponsored visa, should the announcement not result in delays or be as restrictive as it initially seems. Once again, it's worth remembering that DIAC timeframes are not always entirely accurate, meaning that allocation for non-state sponsored visa subclasses could continue as normal (or that regular allocation will begin again following the February 13th deadline).

In the meantime, I'd like to assure all our clients that Visa Bureau is in constant contact with the Migration Institute of Australia (MIA) and we will ensure to inform them immediately upon receiving any updates regarding this situation. It's still very early days, and further clarification from DIAC regarding a number of highly pertinent points will be required before we'll know what the true ramifications will be.

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