New Australian Budget slashes skilled migration intake

The 2009-10 Australian Budget was released today, which came with the announcement that the 2009-10 Australian skilled migration program has been slashed by a further 6,900 places. As a result, the skilled migration intake now stands at 108,100 places for the next year; over 25,000 places less than the migration program initially set as part of the 2008-09 Budget.

The news shouldn't come as much of a surprise, considering the pressure the Australian Government has been under recently to focus on securing 'Australian jobs for Australians' and make migration cuts in this time of economic strife. Even though March saw the 2008-09 skilled migration program capped to 115,000 places, further reductions seemed inevitable.

In addition to the cutback in places, the Government also announced that the English language level required for trades-related occupations would be increased. Previously, skilled visa applicants in trades occupations who were NOT passport holders of the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada or New Zealand were required to score at least 5.0 out of 9.0 in each of the 4 competencies (listening, reading, writing and speaking) of an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test. However, from 1 July 2009, these same applicants must now score a higher score of at least 6.0 out of 9.0 in each of the 4 competencies.

The core message of the 2009-10 skilled migration program seems to be that the changes implemented earlier this year are here to stay. I refer specifically to the emphasis put on government-sponsored visa subclasses over the independent alternatives, as applicants for the Skilled- Sponsored (subclass 176, State) visa will continue to be fast-tracked and this subclass will remain uncapped.

The CSL (Critical Skills List) will also remain in place for those people seeking to migrate to Australia without a sponsor, but no further occupations have been added or removed.

The hardest thing to predict will be the processing timeframes for applicants who are not state-sponsored or applying under a CSL-listed occupation. For the two lowest priority groups (i.e. applicants who are applying under an occupation listed on the MODL (Migration Occupation in Demand List) and applicants who are not MODL-listed and are applying for an independent or family-sponsored visa), I would expect to see some movement with these cases come 1 July 2009.

Unfortunately, applicants in these groups will still have their applications under the threat of being suspended until July 2010, especially if there is an abundance of applications that are state-sponsored and/or CSL-listed. Should this backlog of low priority applications grow too high, we should be prepared for such significant changes as the removal of occupations from the MODL and possibly even the visa subclass pass marks being raised.

So, while processing times might look bleak for low priority groups currently, I would urge that anyone who would fall into one of these lower priority groups to apply for their visa now, as their continued eligibility under the Australian skilled migration program cannot be guaranteed.

- Tony Coates is a Migration Caseworker for the Australian Visa Bureau