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Published on February 2nd, 2012 | by john.weir

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Australia’s Skill Select programme – by invitation only

The biggest change to Australia’s skilled migration program since the visa points test was first introduced 33 years ago is to be implemented from1 July 2012.

A new invitation-only visa system will become law, removing the rights all eligible candidates forskilled migration currently enjoy. While rightly described by Australian authorities as a policy that matches the “best and brightest migrants to the available places in the migration program,” it is undoubtedly a change that will make it significantly more difficult for many to obtain permanent residency.

The new system, known as the Skilled Migrant Selection Register – or simply ‘SkillSelect’ – introduces a new intermediate step into the skilled visa process – the Expression of Interest. While the key features of SkillSelect have been unveiled by the Department of Immigration, further amendments are possible prior to its implementation.

EXPRESSION OF INTEREST

The requirement to lodge an EOI (Expression of Interest) through SkillSelect falls upon all skilled migrants and will only be possible after first receiving a skills assessment, and in most cases, sitting the IELTS English test. Furthermore, an entirely accurate EOI is essential as information provided at this stage will later be verified against the final visa application, with any false or misleading claims made earlier in the EOI easily leading to visa refusal.

EOIs will also need to be thoroughly prepared to ensure candidates claim every point they qualify for. For those submitting EOIs under the independent or family sponsored streams, the electronic SkillSelect Register will automatically issue invitations to those with the highest points score in their occupation group in regular monthly rounds. For those applying through state sponsorship, each state will manually select candidates for nomination from those who have indicated they wish to be considered by that state in their EOI. The number of candidates each state can sponsor will be determined by their specific State Migration Plan.

Once state nominated, the Department of Immigration will issue an invitation at the next monthly round. The first such round will not however occur until January 2013. Furthermore, SkillSelect will introduce an additional limitation known as the occupation ceiling. This sees a limit being placed on the number of people selected for independent migration from each occupation group. Once the relevant yearly cap is reached, no further invitations will be offered to those in that occupation.

Under existing regulations, there is no restriction on eligible applicants applying for and ultimately receiving permanent residency – although priority processing arrangements result in some applicants receiving their visas faster than others. This means that, currently, anyone who meets basic eligibility criteria and achieves at least 65 on the points test (the pass mark) is granted a visa.

The new SkillSelect system dramatically changes this by removing the freedom to apply. When SkillSelect is introduced, only specially selected candidates will be invited to lodge an application based on the number of points they achieve. In practice, this means that for most occupations a point score of 75 or more may be needed to qualify. For many (especially older) applicants such scores are simply unattainable. It also means that virtually all prospective migrantswill need to

 

succeed on the IELTS English test in order to benefit from the additional points it provides. SkillSelect represents a significant tightening of visa regulations and will result in many people who used to be able to qualify losing their eligibility for permanent residency. The good news is that the current visa regulations (which do not include SkillSelect) apply to all skilled visa applications lodged before the 1 July 2012.

There could be sufficient time therefore in this interim period to obtain the necessary skills assessment and then directly submit your skilled visa application – without the need to lodge an EOI nor receive any invitation from the Department. However, as a number of months are required to successfully obtain a skills assessment and then prepare and lodge a skilled visa application, this window of opportunity to beat the introduction of SkillSelect is fast closing.

MAJOR IMPROVEMENTS

While Skill Select is bad news for many hopeful migrants, the new system will result in some major improvements to the skilled migration program. Most significantly, by limiting the number of people able to apply to the number of visas actually available each year, processing times should dramatically drop. The sixth month freeze on new skilled visa applications from July to December will also provide an opportunity for the Department to catch up on its sizeable back-log of applications.

The Skill Select Register will also include a feature where those submitting an EOI can choose to have their information available to Australian employers. Interested employers will be encouraged to search the Register to find qualified candidates to nominate through the separate employer sponsored visa programs. No invitation to apply will be required in these cases, however normal employer sponsored criteria must be met, such as minimum length employment contracts and salary levels. The huge global demand for permanent residency in Australia means its Government can choose the most qualified persons to receive their visas. The way it determines those most qualified is through its visa points test.

From 1 July, achieving the minimum pass mark of 65 will no longer be sufficient in the vast majority of cases. This means that many prospective migrants, although meeting eligibility requirements, will not score high enough to ever receive invitations to apply. It will also result in many candidates only receiving invitations if willing to accept state sponsorship, particularly sponsorship that limits residence to regional Australia.

If you want more information on the Skill Select programme, come to Down Under Live in London, Edinburgh and Birmingham in February 2012.

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