Changes to Critical Skills List lead to more visa processing frustration

With the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) report released on Monday the 19th of March, there have been cuts to the Australian skilled migration program and major changes to visa processing times, both of which have been covered on our site to some extent. However, after speaking to our clients, I thought that these topics were deserving of further clarification. With the amount of changes DIAC have made recently, there's considerable room for confusion.

The MODL vs. the CSL

The Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL) lists the occupations and specialisations identified by the Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) as being in short supply. If your nominated occupation is on the MODL, AND you have at least 12 months of skilled experience in the previous 4 years in that MODL-listed occupation (or one that is closely related), you can score an additional 15 points. A further 5 MODL points can be scored with an acceptable Australian job offer.

The Critical Skills List (CSL) is a list of occupations that was introduced in January 2009 in response to the global economic crisis and DIAC's desire to have the 2008/09 migration program be better targeted and more responsive to Australian industry needs.  As a result, the CSL is now used to prioritise the applications that have not already been specified as high priority (which would be through sponsorship by an Australian employer or a State/Territory).

The CSL does not affect your visa eligibility or points totals at all; it's simply a tool that DIAC use to determine which applicants will receive priority processing upon lodging their visa application.

Therefore, the changes made to the CSL have absolutely no bearing on your current visa eligibility status. While the MODL is updated from time to time, it has not changed at present. While the changes are a slight setback to those that wish to migrate immediately, it does not change the fact that you should still qualify for the same visa you did before the changes were announced.

However, there is speculation that these initial announcements should be taken as a forewarning for bigger changes. Whether these fears will materialise is still debatable, but working in the casework department, we try to anticipate for the worst. As a result, we are preparing for what could be significant alterations to the migration process as a whole.

How will the CSL changes affect my visa application?

The only way that the CSL affects your visa application is that, upon lodging your application to DIAC, processing times will have increased UNLESS you are a priority applicant (i.e. if you are applying for a Subclass 176 (State Sponsored) / Subclass 475 (Regional Sponsored) visa, OR your occupation is listed on the CSL).

At the moment, we do not know the exact length of time that non-priority applicants will need to wait once they have lodged to DIAC, but indications have been made that no non-priority visas will be granted before 1 July 2009

Also, while it is pure speculation at this point, there is every possibility that non-priority applications will continue to have their processing delayed throughout the next program year, should the economic situation continue to deteriorate in Australia.

To remind you of the priority processing order for visa applications that came into effect on 1 January 2009, the order currently stands as follows (listed from highest priority to lowest):

  • Group 1) Applications with a successful State & Territory Nomination; THEN
  • Group 2) Applications where the nominated occupation is on the Critical Skills List (CSL); THEN
  • Group 3) Applications where the nominated occupation is on the Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL); THEN
  • Group 4) All other remaining applications.

What are the next steps for someone affected by the changes?

The best thing for all affected applicants to do is remain calm and positive, as there are still other options available: 


If you are in the process of preparing a Subclass 175 (Skilled Independent) or Subclass 176 (Family Sponsored) visa, you can quite easily move to applying for Subclass 176 (State Sponsored) visa by obtaining a State Sponsorship before lodging, which will give your application Group 1 priority.

If you have already lodged your Subclass 175 visa application then you can still switch to a Subclass 176 (State Sponsored) visa application through submitting the necessary Form 1100 that demonstrates sponsorship from an Australian State or Territory.  As soon as DIAC receive Form 1100, they will commence processing your application as a Subclass 176 (State Sponsored) visa application within 10 days.

Please note: Subclass 475 (Family Sponsored) visa applicants are unable to gain higher priority by obtaining a Regional State/Territory sponsorship UNLESS they reapply and pay the application fee again.

How long will it take to switch to a state sponsored visa subclass?

Due to the expected influx of applications for state sponsorships over the coming weeks, the processing time taken by each State/Territory government to assess these applications may take much longer than previously anticipated (i.e. up to 3 months or more). 

Worryingly though, there has been some indication that further restrictions will be made by the individual States and Territories. For example, a couple of States/Territories have already said that they will not offer State Sponsorship to subclass 175 visa applicants who already score 120 points or more.  It is also possible that States/Territories will start introducing their own quotas for occupations on their lists, as it is the State/Territory governments who will have to justify the entry of overseas workers as the economic pinch is felt and Australian workers begin losing jobs. 

Also, there are no guarantees that States/Territories will not modify their sponsorship lists over the coming weeks, which could essentially shut the door on your ability to continue this migration route.  For example, the South Australian Government has already announced that they will be removing some skilled occupations from their sponsorship lists at the end of March, which is an indication that anyone wishing to proceed with a state sponsored visa application should try to start the process ASAP, but not without considering their options in detail before doing so.

However, while many of the States/Territories might be uncertain when it comes to providing State Sponsorship, we would recommend that applicants give consideration to seeking Western Australian Sponsorship. 

The reasons for this are twofold; firstly, Western Australia is not as affected by the global financial crisis as other Australian States/Territories.  Secondly, while Australia's Federal Labor Government is very sensitive to lobbying from Trade Unions, Western Australia is currently the only non-Labor State/Territory government. As a result, Western Australia's government is more likely to stay true to the genuine skills shortages in that State.


If you have already made an application for a subclass 175 or subclass 176 (Family Sponsored) visa, it is possible to make a free application for an Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) or Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) visa.  To get approval for one of these permanent employer-sponsored visas, you need to find a DIAC-approved Australian employer to offer you a skilled position and sponsor your visa application. 

However, this is a much more difficult option, and it may be better to first explore a State Sponsorship on the basis of receiving such a job offer, as each State and Territory has a special allocation of 500 visa placements which entitles them to offer sponsorship for any occupations not on their state sponsorship lists.

It's a very difficult time for anyone looking to emigrate to Australia. While it's important to have a realistic understanding of the current changes being made, please take all news stories and general rumours regarding migration changes with a grain of salt. What we recommend is that all applicants stay calm, take the time to understand the options available and, if necessary, move swiftly to take action.

Also, please understand that Visa Bureau will not be able to provide details regarding processing timelines for any specific visa application, as we are not privy to this information. However, we will do our best to answer other questions with the information and experience we have available.

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