Some of you might remember this expression from the days of Monty Python's Flying Circus when John Cleese sat behind a news desk (minus trousers!) and introduced a new sketch which had absolutely nothing to do with the previous one! The recently announced changes to the skilled migration program together with the changes that are still to come will change the face of Australian migration forever.
The single change to date that will have the most immediate impact is the removal of the MODL list and the consequential loss of the 15 points which were available for having an occupation on that list. These points virtually guaranteed that all the occupations on the list would make the 120 point threshold required for the skilled independent visa (subclass175).
The minister for migration Senator Chris Evans said in a recent speech:
"It is the case, however, that aspects of the program are rusty and in need of reform. Under the previous government's policy settings, Australia's skilled migration program has been delivering too many self-nominated migrants from a narrow range of occupations with poor to moderate English language skills who struggle to find employment in their nominated occupation."
He then went on to announce a whole series of changes which will have far reaching consequences:
Legislation which will enable the minister to cap application numbers in individual occupations and to set specific conditions - such as requirement for a higher standard of English.
An organisation called Skills Australia will revise the skilled occupations list. The new list will be published by the 30th of April, but will not come into effect until mid 2010. The most likely outcome of this review is that some occupations will be removed from the list but as yet we simply do not know - so once again we will have to wait to find out!
The creation of State and Territory migration plans able to recruit occupations not on the skilled occupations list if the need should arise locally. This ability already exists in the off list nomination program and it would seem that this facility is to be expanded.
A complete revision of the points system: A discussion paper was published on the 15th of February and it would appear that every aspect of the system is being looked at!
Finally, and perhaps most importantly in the long term, he announced that the department will look at the feasibility of adopting a system whereby applicants put forward an application and are then selected as candidates by an employer, State or Territory Government, or the Commonwealth government.
The changes announced on the 8th February this year together with the content of the press release of the same day represent a complete shift of emphasis away from the skilled independent route for migrants and towards sponsor driven migration. In addition the greater emphasis being placed on English language skills will favour migrants from English speaking countries. This is reflected in the decision to cap the number of applications made before September 2007 that will be processed. As the minister put it:
"The unfortunate situation was that these people applied when English language and work experience requirements were easier than they now are, and their backgrounds placed them low down the queue under priority processing arrangements. As a result, they are unlikely to have ever been granted a visa. The Government will refund their visa application charge."
It is estimated that some 20,000 applications will be affected, mainly from non English speaking countries and it is going to cost the Australian government millions of dollars to implement! The fact that the Government is willing to do this demonstrates in the clearest way possible their determination to reform the system from top to bottom!
So, what good news is there for people in this country who are thinking of migrating to Australia? Surprisingly, there really are some positive elements to what is going on!
Firstly the greater emphasis on good English language skills will undoubtedly favour applicants from English speaking countries.
Secondly the introduction of the "job ready" scheme for onshore applicants at the beginning of the year is clearly designed to cut the numbers of students (particularly with trade qualifications) applying for residency from within Australia. It has long been felt by many that the onshore study route represented a much easier route to permanent migration when compared to the exacting requirements of an offshore application and the Government now seems to be addressing this issue. In addition the discussion paper also acknowledges that certain trades (such as the building trades) are not suited to employer sponsorship because of the way their industry operates (the subcontractor system). It is also interesting to note that particular mention is made of skilled trades people as a group that will still be very much in demand in Australia.
Finally Australia will still need skilled migrants in large numbers for the foreseeable future. In common with most countries it will shortly be experiencing a rapid increase in the numbers of people reaching retirement age and, coupled with the upturn in the economy will mean increasing shortages in the labour market which can only be filled by migrants. The first signs of this happening are already starting to appear as several multibillion dollar projects start to get under way. The emphasis is clearly shifting towards the migrant with a higher level of skill, language ability and experience who is willing to go where they are needed. As with all changes there will be winners and losers but until we know more of the details we don't know exactly who they will be!
In the article I wrote last August for this magazine I concluded that Australia was going to become a lot more picky about whom they wanted and where they wanted them. What has happened and is about to happen could not make this point clearer!
David Knox, of Thames Migration, www.thamesmigration.com
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