News from Australia
The Australian government has announced it is reforming the permanent skilled migration program to ensure that it is more responsive to the needs of industry and employers and better addresses the nation’s future skill needs.
The reforms will deliver a demand- rather than supply-driven skilled migration program that meets the needs of the economy in sectors and regions where there are shortages of highly skilled workers, such as healthcare, engineering, and mining. The major reforms to the skilled migration program include:
- 20,000 would-be migrants will have their applications cancelled and receive a refund
All offshore General Skilled Migration applications filed before September 1, 2007, will have their applications withdrawn. These are people who applied overseas under easier standards, including less rigorous English language skill and work experience requirements. An estimated 20,000 people fall into this category.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) will refund their visa application charges at an estimated cost of A$14million.
- The list of occupations in demand will be tightened so that only highly skilled migrants will be eligible to apply for independent skilled migration visas
The wide-ranging Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL) dating from September 2009 will be revoked immediately. The list is outdated and contains 106 occupations, many of which are less-skilled and no longer in demand.
A new and more targeted Skilled Occupations List (SOL) will be developed by an independent body, Skills Australia, and reviewed annually. It will be introduced mid-year and will focus on high-value professions and trades.
The Critical Skills List introduced at the beginning of 2009, which identified occupations in critical demand at the height of the global financial crisis, will also be phased out.
- The points test used to assess migrants will be reviewed to ensure that it selects the best and brightest
Potential migrants gain points based on their qualifications, skills and experience, and proficiency in English. The current points test puts an overseas student with a short-term vocational qualification gained in Australia ahead of a Harvard-educated environmental scientist.
A review of the points test used to assess General Skilled Migration applicants will consider issues including whether some occupations should warrant more points than others, whether sufficient points are awarded for work experience and excellence in English, and whether there should be points for qualifications obtained from overseas universities.
The review will be reported to the government later this year.
- Certain occupations may be capped to ensure that skill needs are met across the board
Amendments to the Migration Act will be introduced this year to give the Minister the power to set the maximum number of visas that may be granted to applicants in any one occupation. This will ensure that the Skilled Migration Program is not dominated by a handful of occupations.
- Development of state and territory-specific migration plans
Individual state and territory migration plans will be developed so they can prioritize skilled migrants of their own choosing. This recognizes that each state and territory has different skill requirements. For example, Western Australia may have a shortage of mining engineers, while Victoria may need more architects. Under the new priority processing arrangements, migrants nominated by a state and territory government under their State Migration Plan will be processed ahead of applications for independent skilled migration.
Senator Chris Evans, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, has said the new arrangements will give first priority to skilled migrants who have a job to go to with an Australian employer. For those who do not have an Australian employer willing to sponsor them, the bar is being raised.
The government has acknowledged that the changes will affect some overseas students currently in Australia intending to apply for permanent residence. International students who hold a vocational, higher education or postgraduate student visa will still be able to apply for a permanent visa if their occupation is on the new SOL. If their occupation is not on the new SOL, they will have until December 31, 2012, to apply for a temporary Skilled Graduate 485 visa on completion of their studies, which will enable them to spend up to 18 months in Australia to acquire work experience and seek sponsorship from an employer.
The changes will not affect international students coming to Australia to gain a legitimate qualification and then return home.