Response to DIAC's changes to Australian visa priority processing

Many skilled visa applicants will be left in
limbo after DIAC's changes to Australian
visa priority processing.

The decision by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) on Wednesday of a snap change in the order of processing priorities (as covered in a previous blog) has surprised and angered many migrants.

Indeed, a state general skilled migration manager frankly admitted in a seminar for migration agents that she was surprised and had no knowledge of the decision before DIAC made the change in priority processing. She admitted that the impact of the change had not yet settled in, that the states were already asking DIAC for more information, and there were fraught weeks ahead for Australian immigration.

"Fraught weeks ahead for Australian immigration"

As yet, neither DIAC, nor the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Senator Chris Evans have issued a press release about the changes. The change may be interpreted as a kneejerk reaction to immigration concerns by the Federal Government facing an election in the near future.

The change, made this week with no prior warning, and created with a lack of consultation with state and territory immigration departments makes little practical sense in our opinion.

This move effectively overrides the states’ carefully researched and state-specific occupations in demand lists, giving greater importance to the Australian Critical Skills List (CSL) and leaving some state sponsored applications facing up to three years for processing.

It was only a few months ago that DIAC announced a slowdown in processing Australian skilled visas (with the exception of applicants who were either employer sponsored, state sponsored or who had a nominated occupation on the CSL). In that change in June, applicants with an occupation on the Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL) were to be considered fourth in the line of priority processing, followed by all other applications in date of lodgement order.

Until yesterday, state sponsored visa applications were given high priority, and once DIAC received and approved a nomination from a state or territory authority, the processing of the application typically commenced within 10 working days.

It was considered unlikely that applications from the first three groups would be exhausted in the 2009-10 program year, and so the final two groups faced a wait of at least another year for processing, unless they applied for and received sponsorship from an Australian employer, or a state or territory.  Many migrants who were in the position to do this changed their pathway in response to this new priority list, switching their application to be for a state or territory sponsored visa.

Since the June processing change, the states’ immigration departments have consulted industries and employers, and designed and tweaked their occupations in demand lists in record time.

For the Federal Government to now decide to process state sponsored applications after four other categories of applications is a complete oversight or breakdown of communication between the states and the Federal Government.

"Complete oversight or breakdown of communication between the states and the Federal Government"

One of the main issues in Australian immigration is regional development, and the state sponsored occupations in demand skills list was designed to supply regional employers with skilled workers in a flexible and supportive way. Western Australia, in the middle of a second resources boom, is in desperate need of mechanical and electrical engineers and technicians. The Western Australian Treasurer Troy Buswell confirmed recently that the state’s has a AU$316 million budget surplus, thanks in part to a 19 per cent jump in the state’s minerals and petroleum exports and record prices for the commodities.

Western Australia has a very different list from New South Wales, a state home to 80 per cent of multinational pharmaceutical companies in Australia and in need of skilled professionals in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and information technology.

The Government have stated that they want the migration program to more tightly target Australia’s skills needs. The CSL is an Australia-wide shortage list whereas the individual state shortage lists are, by definition, much more targeted than the CSL. So, for the Government to decide that state sponsored applications without an occupation on the CSL are unlikely to be processed for three years makes a mockery of their stated intention to more tightly target skills shortages

This new priority processing order will be almost unworkable on a state level, and I can only assume that a further announcement will be made, after lobbying by the states, to redress this situation.

"New priority processing order will be almost unworkable on a state level"

It is possible that the Federal Government has received so many state sponsored applications in the past few months that they are actively seeking to stem that pathway with difficulties, to discourage further Australia visa applicants.

Perhaps the Federal Government, facing up to three years processing time for some applicants and constrained by the precedent law on the MODL lists which gives favour to the applicant over the change in occupations on the list, is wanting to rid themselves of this ineffective tool and seek to address labour shortages by circumventing the MODL with the CSL or a similar Australia-wide list.

This change in Australian visa processing priorities may be a precursor to a bigger change hinted in the two recent issues papers released in relation to the scheduled Migration Occupations in Demand List review (the first of which we covered in this blog, and the second of which we looked at in this blog) and a complete overhaul of the structure of skilled immigration to Australia. 

Any way you look at this recent change it seems badly researched, ill conceived, poorly managed and a step backwards for Australian immigration policy.

- Martin Beveridge is a Migration Consultant for the Australian Visa Bureau