Looking at SkillSelect one year later – what have we learned?

As SkillSelect has been in place for a full migration year, running from 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2013, we now have a significant amount of information on how the program has been working in practice to assist us in advising potential applicants.

  • Expression of Interest (EOI)
    An expression of interest is an applicant’s indication to DIAC that they would like to be considered for a visa application. It takes place after the skills assessment and other early stage matters have been addressed.
  • Invitation to Apply (ITA)
    An ITA is DIAC’s communication that an applicant’s EOI has been selected and they are invited to submit a visa application within 60 days.
  • Ranking
    The rankings only apply to Skilled Independent 189 and Skilled Regional Sponsored 489 applicants. Applicants who secure state nomination and wish to apply for a Skilled Nominated 190 or Skilled Regional Nominated 489 are issued an ITA immediately upon the state confirming the nomination.
    A publication by the Australian Bureau of Statistics which classify occupations into categories, used for migration purposes. The ANZSCO for each occupation lists the key responsibilities and education required for the occupations and it is then used by case officers when assessing employment claims, as well as forming a fundamental part of the SkillSelect system when considering occupation ceilings.

What is SkillSelect?

To put it in simple terms, SkillSelect is how the Australian government ranks potential visa applicants once they’re ready to lodge their application. The basic process is as follows:

1. Completing an Expression of Interest (EOI)

Once an applicant applying for a visa under the General Skilled Migration program has met the primary criteria for the visa (i.e. their skills assessment and a sufficient IELTS test result), they will be asked by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) to complete an Expression of Interest (EOI).

2. Receiving a ranking

Upon submitting an EOI, the applicant is then given a unique ranking, in accordance with the points the applicant is claiming.

3. Receiving an Invitation to Apply

Twice a month, DIAC will issue an Invitation To Apply (ITA) to a pre-determined number of applicants based on their rank.

Should there be a number of people who get the same points score, then DIAC will also take into account the date that applicants lodged their EOI and issue ITAs to those who submitted earlier (so, someone with a points score of 70 who applied in March, 2013 would receive an ITA earlier than someone with a points score of 70 who applied in May, 2013).

However, there are also occupational ceilings set by DIAC, which specify the maximum number of visas DIAC is prepared to grant to applicants in each occupation group. DIAC uses this in combination with the ranking system to control the program so that a good balance of occupations.

Applicants who lodge a Skilled Nominated 190 or a Skilled Regional Nominated 489 visa are not subject to rankings, and they will receive an ITA immediately upon the state confirming the nomination.

How do occupational ceilings work?

Occupational ceilings are set by DIAC and represent the maximum number of ITAs that they are able to issue to applicants in each occupation group. Occupational ceilings exist to ensure that the program is weighted in a way that meets Australia’s skills needs.

A number of government organisations in Australia advise DIAC as to the patterns of employment in Australia, taking into consideration the ages of people in industries to monitor retirement rates, as well as education providers to see how many people are on track to work in that industry, to determine what degree of skill gaps exist in each industry.

Occupational ceiling are then set so as to limit the ITA’s that can be issued for each occupation group so that the program is balanced.

How many places are there for each occupation?

The number of places set for each occupation varies. Additionally, when DIAC set occupational ceilings they do this at the ANZSCO Unit Group Level rather than at the ANZSCO occupation level, which means that there are often a number of occupations falling into a unit group.

For the purposes of occupational ceilings this means that often a less subscribed occupation can meet its ceiling owing to it being in a unit group with an application they receive large numbers of. The impact of that procedure will be explained later.

How do applicants know when their occupation’s ceiling is close to being reached?

As part of every round of issuing ITAs to applicants, DIAC monitors how many are issued to each occupation unit group and publish information that shows where they are tracking against the ceiling.

As a result, applicants and agents can be aware of what occupations may be at risk of meeting their occupational ceiling during the program year. This gives transparency into the system and allows applicants and agents to be aware of any occupations that may be prone to potential delays in processing times.

Have any occupations reached their occupational ceiling?

So far, very few. Last year there were a handful of occupation groups that reached their occupation ceiling, affecting chemical, electronics and telecommunication engineers as well as ICT business analysts and developer programmers, plus a few more obscure occupations.

No other occupational ceilings were met, with the vast majority of occupation groups being less than 20% filled.

For example, there were 7,140 places for carpenters and joiners, and they only received 171 applications, which is just over 2% filled.

Registered nurses had a ceiling of 13,380 and they received 1,966, which is under 15% filled.

Secondary School Teachers had total applications of 490 and a ceiling of 7,020, resulting in just under 7% filled.

How has SkillSelect performed since it was introduced?

As noted, Skillselect has now been in place for a full migration year, so we’ve had the opportunity to fully appreciate how the system is working. We’ve also been able to make some observations and answer some questions that people have had.

Is state nomination important to receiving an Invitation To Apply?

Initially, there was a strong indication that obtaining state nomination would be the only way of ensuring that an ITA would be received, and was pitched as being the only means of predicting the outcome of an application with any degree of certainty, particularly in relation to timeframes.

However, as the year progressed it became apparent that, except for in a very small handful of cases, the occupation ceilings for each occupation were not in jeopardy of being met. As a result, it seems like DIAC had perhaps received fewer applications than they had anticipated.

The net effect is that there is no significant difference in timescales at the moment between the permanent state nominated 190 subclass and the independent 189 subclass. There are fluctuations to some degree at certain periods of the program year though, depending on how DIAC is performing against yearly targets.

How familiar are Visa Bureau with SkillSelect as migration agents?

As we’ve now seen a full program year, this has given us a good deal of confidence in advising on the potential risks and issues with the SkillSelect system, as there is a large amount of data available to assist in coming to informed decisions.

This allows us to disseminate that information to applicants at the beginning of the process, and throughout their application, so that they are aware of any changes to overall timescales and can adjust their plans accordingly.

- Lauren Mennie is a Registered Migration Agent for the Australian Visa Bureau.