Further information released regarding changes to Australian skilled migration in July 2012

The Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) have released further information regarding the changes to the Australian general skilled migration system that are proposed to be implemented at the start of the next migration program year in July 2012.  

What is being proposed?

DIAC are considering making significant changes to the way a potential migrant submits an application for a skill-based Australia visa. From July 2012, it is proposed that the current system will be replaced with a two-stage application process under a selection register called 'SkillSelect' which is designed to ensure the Australian government selects the highest quality skilled migrants from a waiting pool.

This will affect all applications in the skilled stream, including visa subclasses 175 (independent); 176 (state/territory sponsored) and 475 (provisional) applications, as well as business skills visa applications.

See below for a diagram that illustrates how the SkillSelect process will work:

How will the new Australian visa application process work?

Prospective applicants will start by submitting an ‘Expression of Interest' (EOI). This is not an Australian visa application, but instead an indication made to DIAC that an individual wishes to be considered for migration. Prior to submitting the EOI, a prospective applicant will need to have obtained an appropriate skills assessment and any English language scores needed to ensure they would be eligible to apply, if invited to do so.

DIAC will note the points test score of the prospective applicant and the time the EOI was lodged. This will help DIAC rank the EOI. Each month, DIAC will invite applicants who rank the highest to apply for a visa. The first of these invitations are expected to be made on 1st August 2012.

How can I ensure my Expression of Interest ranks as highly as possible?

The precise criteria by which DIAC plan to rank EOI’s has not yet been confirmed in full, however it is clear that the points attained prior to invitation will be a determining factor in the ranking of an EOI, with those who score the most in the best position to be invited to proceed. Ranking will be determined electronically, and preference will be given to those who express their interest earliest.

Although points scores will be accessible, rankings will not be made available to the prospective applicant, and can be amended by DIAC at any time. An EOI can also be updated at any point prior to receiving an invitation. Having issued invitations each month, DIAC will make available the lowest score of a successful EOI for each occupation, which will provide an indication of the minimum score needed to maximise the chance of receiving an invitation.

What happens if I am invited to apply for an Australian visa?

DIAC will contact the applicant or agent directly to invite the prospective applicant to apply in earnest. Having received an invitation, a deadline of 60 days will apply to lodge the visa application, which will be submitted electronically through DIAC's online system.

A maximum of two invitations will be given before the EOI is removed from the pool if no application has been made. DIAC have yet to confirm precisely how the application process will proceed once an invitation has been made, however it is likely that further documents will be required along with a completed application form and associated fee. The application is then likely to be assigned to a case officer who will assess the application manually and liaise with the applicant or agent as necessary.

How is Australian state/territory sponsorship affected?

SkillSelect will make the pool of prospective applicants available to state/territory representatives, who will be given the opportunity to issue invitations for sponsorship in accordance with their own State Migration Plan. If sponsorship is agreed, the sponsored applicant will then be invited to apply for a visa.

Will this affect Australian visa processing times?

While processing times have not yet been confirmed, DIAC have indicated that each occupation under which an application can be made will be subject to a 'ceiling'. The ceiling will act like a quota, allowing DIAC to invite prospective applications in any occupation until the ceiling as been reached.

DIAC is conscious that the migration program can occasionally be dominated by specific occupations or industries and are seeking to avoid this from reoccurring. If the ceiling has been reached for any occupation, no further invitations for that nominated occupation will be allocated and no invitations for state/territory sponsorship will be issued until at least the next migration program year. EOIs will remain active for two years before they will expire if no invitation has been made prior to that point. Prospective applicants may then submit a fresh EOI which will be subject to the same procedure.

See below for a diagram from DIAC that illustrates how the ceiling process will work:

What should I do now?

At this stage, there are still significant areas which DIAC have yet to clarify. For example, no information has been released regarding the points test or how points will be allocated. We don’t yet know whether the core occupations on DIAC’s skilled occupations list will be amended. Additionally, no information has been released about the occupation ceilings, and it is unclear what period of time prospective applicants may be waiting for an invitation or for an invitation to move to a finalised application.

Given this uncertainty, Visa Bureau recommends that anyone wishing to apply under the visa streams affected lodge their application prior to the end of June 2012, when the current migration year will end. Applications lodged before this time should be assessed under the legislation in place at the point of lodgement, and will not be affected by changes to the application process implemented after that point.

Also, Visa Bureau clients should approach their caseworker to discuss in greater detail if they are unsure about any of this. Clients will be informed promptly of any updates that may affect their application.

Visa Bureau will be keeping a close eye on all information released from DIAC regarding SkillSelect and any changes proposed or updated. Prospective applicants wishing to benefit from the care of our experienced team of dedicated case workers are invited to get in touch through our assessment webpage, after which a consultant will be in touch to discuss your potential application in greater detail.

- Matt Parker is a caseworker for the Australian Visa Bureau.