More changes to Australian visas as business skills sub-program is capped and partly closed

In another change to the processing of Australian visas and the Skilled Migration program, the Australian Minister of Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Evans, has signed (or is about to sign) an instrument to effect a cap on the business skills program of 7,500 for the 2008/09 program.

Upon this announcement, Perth Business Centre have advised an immediate freeze on off-shore business skills subclasses and a careful management of the onshore caseload.  This would be against the Minister's direction that State Sponsored visas be processed ahead of non-State Sponsored visas.

This news comes as another example of the drastic cuts and changes being implemented across the Skilled Migration program.  The program for 2008/09 was initially set at a total of 133,500, which included a provision of 7,000 visas for the business skills sub-program. However, as reported on the 16th March 2009, the Minister announced that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) were going to reduce the total number of visas from 133,500 to 115,000 visas for the 2008/09 Skilled Migration Program. 

To achieve this reduction, the government has already taken some significant steps, such as removing construction and manufacturing trades from the Critical Skills List (CSL) as well as announcing their intention to progressively cap sub-programs within the Skilled Migration Program, of which the business skills sub-program has been the first.

Taken at face value, this appeared to be a strange move for DIAC to make. The majority of the Skilled Migration program changes have been implemented to 'save Australian jobs' and ensure that as the Australian job market feels the effects of the global economic crisis, Australians don't find themselves being put out of work due to an influx of skilled migrants.

However, it could be assumed that anyone arriving through the business skills program would be launching new business ventures in Australia and CREATING new jobs, as opposed to taking them away.  Therefore, putting any kind of cap on this sub-program seems counter-intuitive to the larger goals of the government and the health of the Australian economy.

Statistically speaking, the cap limits the number of business skills visas to 7,500 for the 2008/09 program, which is actually an increase of 7% on the initial planning level against a nearly 14% reduction in the program as a whole.  However, this planning level was not capped previously, and would typically have run on demand to approximately 8,000 visas for the year 2008/09. 

As an indication of just how serious the capping of this visa sub-program is, almost immediately after receiving the news that the business skills sub-program was going to be capped, we learned that no further visa grants for off-shore business skills visas will be granted until July 1 2009.  Further information regarding the capping of the Skilled Migration program is available in questions 1-14 of DIAC's FAQ PDF, but applicants for off-shore business skills visas will now have to wait until the 2009-10 program begins.

Significant changes are constantly coming in to the Australian migration program, and it will be interesting to see which visa category will be capped next.

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