Increased English language requirements for skilled migration tradespeople coming July 1

Skilled migration tradespeople

From 1 July, increased English language
requirements will be set in place for tradespeople.

One issue that we covered briefly upon its announcement as part of our blog on the 2009/10 Australian budget is the increased English language requirement for applicants for Australian visas who work in trades-related occupations.

Previously, skilled migration tradespeople who were NOT passport holders of the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada or New Zealand were required to achieve what was termed a 'vocational' level of English, which required a score at least 5.0 out of 9.0 in each of the 4 competencies (listening, reading, writing and speaking) of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test.

However, from 1 July 2009, the vocational level will cease to exist, and these same applicants must now score a higher score of at least 6.0 out of 9.0 in each of the 4 competencies (which is termed a 'competent' level of English). While additional restrictions are being applied to many aspects of the visa application process, the removal of English language concessions for tradespeople does raise some questions that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) haven't yet addressed.

As far as I have seen, the only public remarks they have made on the changes are as follows (as sourced from this page on the DIAC website):

"The aim of the GSM Program is to select migrants who, because of the skills they possess, are more likely to find skilled employment shortly after they arrive in Australia. A high level of English language ability is recognised as being essential for achieving this objective.

The English language requirement for GSM applicants nominating a trade occupation will be increased to a minimum of 6.0 (Competent English) in each of the four components of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test. This increase in the IELTS score brings the English language requirement for trade occupations in line with other occupations for GSM visas, with trade occupations previously exempt from GSM changes introduced in September 2007."

While DIAC's arguments that they are trying to improve the employability of new migrants and are simply bringing the English language requirements for tradespeople in line with other occupations has some merit, it still feels like more justification is needed.

For example, is the English language level being raised due to a safety factor? It's possible that tradespeople without good English language skills could be perceived as a hazard, given the inherent danger present on any building site or workplace where power tools are used and the necessity for clear, concise communication at all times in such situations.

However, at the moment, there is so much room for interpretation that it's very hard for us to know exactly what sparked the changes.

Regardless of whether DIAC give any further reasoning for their decision, the fact remains that after 1 July, it is going to be much harder for many skilled workers to demonstrate their eligibilty for an Australian visa when they would have previously qualified. There's little advice that I can give, except to emphasise how important it is for anyone who might be affected to lodge their Australian visa application ASAP, if possible.

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