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Sponsored South Australia visa program removes only 1 occupation

by Lauren 3/31/2009 12:43:00 PM

Many potential migrants should be breathing a sigh of relief today as the sponsored South Australia visa program has removed just one occupation from the Permanent Sponsorship list. 

This announcement comes after concerns that the changes would be far more severe, with these fears originally sparked as a result of the Minister of Immigration's announcement that the Department of Immigration & Citizenship (DIAC) will be cutting the skilled program by 14%.  Many speculated that the individual States and Territories would soon follow suit and close their doors on potential migrants by making big changes to their sponsored visa programs.

Initial reports seemed to confirm this with Tasmania immediately suspending their processing of sponsorships on 17 March, pending a review of their policy due to be announced on 20 April. However, such dramatic changes were not made to South Australia's permanent sponsorship list, with the only change being the removal of one occupation from the South Australian Permanent Sponsorship list, which was:

Applicants who list this as their nominated occupation in the points test will no longer be eligible for permanent sponsorship by South Australia. Additionally, there have also been a number of occupations removed from the South Australian Provisional Sponsorship list:

Essentially, the changes were not as bad as initially feared and gaining sponsorship for a South Australia visa remains a very feasible reality for Australian migration hopefuls. 

Additionally, after all the difficulties and confusion surrounding the new visa processing priorities, there's also some clarification on that front provided by Immigration SA; they have now officially stated that permanent sponsorship applications (i.e. for the Skilled Sponsored visa (subclass 176)) will be processed within 4 weeks and provisional sponsorship applications (i.e. for the Skilled Regional Sponsored visa (subclass 475)) will be processed within 6-8 weeks.

Any further changes to the sponsorship lists of South Australia or any other State/Territory will be reported by the Australian Visa Bureau as soon as we learn of them.

- Lauren Mennie is Casework Department Manager for the Australian Visa Bureau

Visa Bureau takes no responsibility and cannot be held accountable for action taken as a result of any information or comment provided on this blog, and we recommend that you always seek a number of opinions before making a decision regarding your migration or visa application. Please refer to the Visa Bureau terms of use for more information.

Australian visa application form updates - what are the facts?

by Lauren 3/27/2009 5:14:00 PM

The 27th of March marks the date that the new Australian visa application form updates take effect, with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) promising that these new visa application forms will be on their site from the close of business today.

While this isn't the first time that DIAC have changed their forms by any means, it has sparked an interesting debate over what the change means for people who have completed an old Australian visa application form but have yet to lodge it; will these completed forms be accepted by DIAC, or will they be returned?

It's a concern shared by those emigrating to Australia and their migration agents, since DIAC have yet to give any upfront advice regarding the protocol in such cases. However, by looking at how these changes have been handled in the past and through examining the Policy Advice Manual (PAM) that is used to guide DIAC case officers, a few questions can be answered.

The debate can basically be boiled down to the definition of an "approved form".  The PAM advises that "old" versions of forms are NOT revoked so all versions of forms are "approved forms" . This opinion is further strengthened by the fact that the Minister (or delegate) approves a form by signing a statement on the design version of the form; however, nothing in the Australian Migration Act or Regulations operates to automatically revoke previous versions of that form.

It can then be taken that all previous versions of that form remain approved until officially revoked. Therefore, should a visa applicant use an old version of a form, that form is still an approved form for the purposes of the Act and Regulations and it must be accepted.

Of course, we would advise very strongly that applicants use the most current Australian visa application form whenever possible; however, if obtaining the latest version of the form results in your application being delayed to the extent that your visa eligibility could be damaged, then I think it should be taken as acceptable to use the previous version of the form.

We're currently awaiting for further advice from DIAC, so look for further updates as they come in.

- Lauren Mennie is Casework Department Manager for the Australian Visa Bureau

Visa Bureau takes no responsibility and cannot be held accountable for action taken as a result of any information or comment provided on this blog, and we recommend that you always seek a number of opinions before making a decision regarding your migration or visa application. Please refer to the Visa Bureau terms of use for more information.

Emigrating to Australia with a migration agent? Changes to MARA are coming...

by Lauren 3/26/2009 5:50:00 PM

As we reported in February, the Australian Immigration Minister has made the decision to move the responsibility of maintaining the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA) to the government, in response to the concerns raised regarding fraudulent migration agents taking advantage of individuals emigrating to Australia. Previously regulated by the Migration Institute of Australia (MIA), Minister Chris Evans has stated that the MARA will be handed over to the government as of 1 July 2009 and be renamed the Office of the MARA. 

According to Senator Evans, the new regulatory framework will "administer the function through a discrete office attached to the Department [of Immigration and Citizenship], headed by a specifically designated senior officer, solely responsible for MARA activities."

It's hard to argue against the Senator's concerns that the integrity of the MARA is somewhat tarnished when agents have to regulate their co-workers. There are around 3,700 agents that need monitoring for "unprofessional, incompetent or unethical behaviour" and when a person's chance of a better life as a result of emigrating to Australia hangs in the balance, a regulatory body needs to ensure that correct and lawful advice is given to migrants. 

Arguments can be made both for and against the change.  One concern I have is that, as an office of the government, the MARA will lose the communication channel it had with migrants while serving as a functioning arm of the MIA. As MIA members are migration agents themselves, they facilitate communication between themselves and migrants, resulting in a positive sharing of knowledge in such places as the MIA online forum, where agents can discuss migration issues and stay ahead of the game.

Additionally, as MARA is removed from such close communication with the public, its entirely possible that they will instead take on the interests of DIAC, although it remains to be seen how influential the motivations of the government will be.

There is also a strong argument for control of MARA being taken away from MIA though.  One of the problems in the past is that MIA would be unable to assist or represent a member in relation to any MARA-related complaint as they were the body in control of both associations. Clearly, this defeats the purpose of MIA existing as the professional body for migration agents as they are esentially rendered unable to help when aid is most needed by one of their members.

Some members have justified this conflict of interests by reasoning that having DIAC act as the controllers of MARA would result in their agenda be compromised to suit the needs of the government, which would be a far worse proposition than the current arrangement (even with its flows). However, when you consider that the duties of controlling MARA is preventing MIA from helping and representing its members, it seems like not only should these responsibilities be lifted from MIA but they should never have been made to burden them in the first place. 

With MIA shedded of its MARA function, it will be able to concentrate on what it was originally established to do: provide aid and assistance to the legitimate migration agents who are trying to help genuine candidates emigrating to Australia. Additionally, should DIAC ever unfairly perform its MARA functions, at least migration agents will have the comfort of knowing that MIA will be able to truly assist in any disputes.

- Lauren Mennie is Casework Department Manager for the Australian Visa Bureau

Visa Bureau takes no responsibility and cannot be held accountable for action taken as a result of any information or comment provided on this blog, and we recommend that you always seek a number of opinions before making a decision regarding your migration or visa application. Please refer to the Visa Bureau terms of use for more information.

More changes to Australian visas as business skills sub-program is capped and partly closed

by Lauren 3/25/2009 9:01:00 PM

In another change to the processing of Australian visas and the Skilled Migration program, the Australian Minister of Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Evans, has signed (or is about to sign) an instrument to effect a cap on the business skills program of 7,500 for the 2008/09 program.

Upon this announcement, Perth Business Centre have advised an immediate freeze on off-shore business skills subclasses and a careful management of the onshore caseload.  This would be against the Minister's direction that State Sponsored visas be processed ahead of non-State Sponsored visas.

This news comes as another example of the drastic cuts and changes being implemented across the Skilled Migration program.  The program for 2008/09 was initially set at a total of 133,500, which included a provision of 7,000 visas for the business skills sub-program. However, as reported on the 16th March 2009, the Minister announced that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) were going to reduce the total number of visas from 133,500 to 115,000 visas for the 2008/09 Skilled Migration Program. 

To achieve this reduction, the government has already taken some significant steps, such as removing construction and manufacturing trades from the Critical Skills List (CSL) as well as announcing their intention to progressively cap sub-programs within the Skilled Migration Program, of which the business skills sub-program has been the first.

Taken at face value, this appeared to be a strange move for DIAC to make. The majority of the Skilled Migration program changes have been implemented to 'save Australian jobs' and ensure that as the Australian job market feels the effects of the global economic crisis, Australians don't find themselves being put out of work due to an influx of skilled migrants.

However, it could be assumed that anyone arriving through the business skills program would be launching new business ventures in Australia and CREATING new jobs, as opposed to taking them away.  Therefore, putting any kind of cap on this sub-program seems counter-intuitive to the larger goals of the government and the health of the Australian economy.

Statistically speaking, the cap limits the number of business skills visas to 7,500 for the 2008/09 program, which is actually an increase of 7% on the initial planning level against a nearly 14% reduction in the program as a whole.  However, this planning level was not capped previously, and would typically have run on demand to approximately 8,000 visas for the year 2008/09. 

As an indication of just how serious the capping of this visa sub-program is, almost immediately after receiving the news that the business skills sub-program was going to be capped, we learned that no further visa grants for off-shore business skills visas will be granted until July 1 2009.  Further information regarding the capping of the Skilled Migration program is available in questions 1-14 of DIAC's FAQ PDF, but applicants for off-shore business skills visas will now have to wait until the 2009-10 program begins.

Significant changes are constantly coming in to the Australian migration program, and it will be interesting to see which visa category will be capped next.

- Lauren Mennie is Casework Department Manager for the Australian Visa Bureau

Visa Bureau takes no responsibility and cannot be held accountable for action taken as a result of any information or comment provided on this blog, and we recommend that you always seek a number of opinions before making a decision regarding your migration or visa application. Please refer to the Visa Bureau terms of use for more information.

Capital Investment Scheme migrants unaffected by new Australian visa processing priorities

by Lauren 3/24/2009 4:37:00 PM

After 13 months of closure, the South Australian Government has temporarily reopened the Capital Investment Scheme pathway for applications lodged before 1 September 2007.  However, after all the changes to the priority processing of visas instated by the introduction and amendment of the Critical Skills List (CSL), many are wondering if the scheme's return provides a genuine pathway to Australia or just another route to more delays.

To give you a little history regarding the changes, the Capital Investment Scheme was initially designed by the government for migrants in need of extra points to count towards their points-based migration assessment. By investing a minimum of AUD$100,000 into a nominated investment bond for at least one year, applicants could earn themselves an extra five points towards their Australian visa application.

Initially, most of the State and Territory governments provided applicants with the facilty for making this investment. However, after one of the major Australian banks suspected they were the victims of a widespread fraud as a result of investments made (and took subsequent legal action to try and claim ownership of many of these investments), all States and Territories withdrew from the Capital Investment Scheme, leaving many applicants stranded.

DIAC had already withdrawn the investment option for new applications made on or after 1 September 2007, and in December 2007, they suspended the processing of all affected applications that were lodged prior to 1 September 2007 (an issue previously addressed on the Visa Bureau blog).

However, good news finally came in January 2009 as applicants who were affected by the Capital Investment Scheme's closure may now lodge a deposit with the South Australian Government Financing Authority (SAGFA).  This is the only scheme currently available which the department is satisfied meets the requirements in the regulations.

Of course, there's a bit of a catch; SAGFA are only offering an interest rate of around 2.2% on all deposits lodged. A reasonable rate would have been at least half as much again, but it seems that SAGFA understand all too well that frustrated applicants, who have been caught in migration limbo for the last 18 months, will be happy to take any means necessary at this stage.

Many of the affected applicants have been sent new requests to make the investment, but more still are waiting to receive such notification.  Additionally, there was initial concern that visa grants for these applicants may be delayed due to the new processing priorities (covered in yesterday's blog), as the majority of these applicants are not CSL-listed. Fortunately, the Minister’s Office has confirmed that Capital Investment Scheme applicants will be an exception to the current priority processing rules and their applications will be processed to visa grant. Further information on the Capital Investment Scheme can be found on the DIAC Capital Investment Scheme FAQ.

There are still other issues that applicants should consider though.  For example, applicants are being requested to go for health and character checks as well as make the investment. The best thing for anyone in this situation is to begin the process of completing these health and character checks BEFORE you lodge the investment, and advise DIAC that you intend to make the investment immediately after they have confirmed your health and character checks are clear.  Another benefit to taking this approach is that it should also help financially, as it could buy you some time before having to liquidate any assets necessary to make the investment.

- Lauren Mennie is the Casework Department Manager for the Australian Visa Bureau

Visa Bureau takes no responsibility and cannot be held accountable for action taken as a result of any information or comment provided on this blog, and we recommend that you always seek a number of opinions before making a decision regarding your migration or visa application. Please refer to the Visa Bureau terms of use for more information.

Changes to Critical Skills List lead to more visa processing frustration

by Lauren 3/23/2009 11:57:00 AM

With the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) report released on Monday the 19th of March, there have been cuts to the Australian skilled migration program and major changes to visa processing times, both of which have been covered on our site to some extent. However, after speaking to our clients, I thought that these topics were deserving of further clarification. With the amount of changes DIAC have made recently, there's considerable room for confusion.

The MODL vs. the CSL

The Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL) lists the occupations and specialisations identified by the Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) as being in short supply. If your nominated occupation is on the MODL, AND you have at least 12 months of skilled experience in the previous 4 years in that MODL-listed occupation (or one that is closely related), you can score an additional 15 points. A further 5 MODL points can be scored with an acceptable Australian job offer.

The Critical Skills List (CSL) is a list of occupations that was introduced in January 2009 in response to the global economic crisis and DIAC's desire to have the 2008/09 migration program be better targeted and more responsive to Australian industry needs.  As a result, the CSL is now used to prioritise the applications that have not already been specified as high priority (which would be through sponsorship by an Australian employer or a State/Territory).

The CSL does not affect your visa eligibility or points totals at all; it's simply a tool that DIAC use to determine which applicants will receive priority processing upon lodging their visa application.

Therefore, the changes made to the CSL have absolutely no bearing on your current visa eligibility status. While the MODL is updated from time to time, it has not changed at present. While the changes are a slight setback to those that wish to migrate immediately, it does not change the fact that you should still qualify for the same visa you did before the changes were announced.

However, there is speculation that these initial announcements should be taken as a forewarning for bigger changes. Whether these fears will materialise is still debatable, but working in the casework department, we try to anticipate for the worst. As a result, we are preparing for what could be significant alterations to the migration process as a whole.

How will the CSL changes affect my visa application?

The only way that the CSL affects your visa application is that, upon lodging your application to DIAC, processing times will have increased UNLESS you are a priority applicant (i.e. if you are applying for a Subclass 176 (State Sponsored) / Subclass 475 (Regional Sponsored) visa, OR your occupation is listed on the CSL).

At the moment, we do not know the exact length of time that non-priority applicants will need to wait once they have lodged to DIAC, but indications have been made that no non-priority visas will be granted before 1 July 2009

Also, while it is pure speculation at this point, there is every possibility that non-priority applications will continue to have their processing delayed throughout the next program year, should the economic situation continue to deteriorate in Australia.

To remind you of the priority processing order for visa applications that came into effect on 1 January 2009, the order currently stands as follows (listed from highest priority to lowest):

  • Group 1) Applications with a successful State & Territory Nomination; THEN
  • Group 2) Applications where the nominated occupation is on the Critical Skills List (CSL); THEN
  • Group 3) Applications where the nominated occupation is on the Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL); THEN
  • Group 4) All other remaining applications.

What are the next steps for someone affected by the changes?

The best thing for all affected applicants to do is remain calm and positive, as there are still other options available: 

OPTION 1 - STATE SPONSORSHIP

If you are in the process of preparing a Subclass 175 (Skilled Independent) or Subclass 176 (Family Sponsored) visa, you can quite easily move to applying for Subclass 176 (State Sponsored) visa by obtaining a State Sponsorship before lodging, which will give your application Group 1 priority.

If you have already lodged your Subclass 175 visa application then you can still switch to a Subclass 176 (State Sponsored) visa application through submitting the necessary Form 1100 that demonstrates sponsorship from an Australian State or Territory.  As soon as DIAC receive Form 1100, they will commence processing your application as a Subclass 176 (State Sponsored) visa application within 10 days.

Please note: Subclass 475 (Family Sponsored) visa applicants are unable to gain higher priority by obtaining a Regional State/Territory sponsorship UNLESS they reapply and pay the application fee again.

How long will it take to switch to a state sponsored visa subclass?

Due to the expected influx of applications for state sponsorships over the coming weeks, the processing time taken by each State/Territory government to assess these applications may take much longer than previously anticipated (i.e. up to 3 months or more). 

Worryingly though, there has been some indication that further restrictions will be made by the individual States and Territories. For example, a couple of States/Territories have already said that they will not offer State Sponsorship to subclass 175 visa applicants who already score 120 points or more.  It is also possible that States/Territories will start introducing their own quotas for occupations on their lists, as it is the State/Territory governments who will have to justify the entry of overseas workers as the economic pinch is felt and Australian workers begin losing jobs. 

Also, there are no guarantees that States/Territories will not modify their sponsorship lists over the coming weeks, which could essentially shut the door on your ability to continue this migration route.  For example, the South Australian Government has already announced that they will be removing some skilled occupations from their sponsorship lists at the end of March, which is an indication that anyone wishing to proceed with a state sponsored visa application should try to start the process ASAP, but not without considering their options in detail before doing so.

However, while many of the States/Territories might be uncertain when it comes to providing State Sponsorship, we would recommend that applicants give consideration to seeking Western Australian Sponsorship. 

The reasons for this are twofold; firstly, Western Australia is not as affected by the global financial crisis as other Australian States/Territories.  Secondly, while Australia's Federal Labor Government is very sensitive to lobbying from Trade Unions, Western Australia is currently the only non-Labor State/Territory government. As a result, Western Australia's government is more likely to stay true to the genuine skills shortages in that State.

OPTION 2 - EMPLOYER NOMINATION SCHEME (ENS) OR REGIONAL SPONSORED MIGRATION SCHEME (RSMS)

If you have already made an application for a subclass 175 or subclass 176 (Family Sponsored) visa, it is possible to make a free application for an Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) or Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) visa.  To get approval for one of these permanent employer-sponsored visas, you need to find a DIAC-approved Australian employer to offer you a skilled position and sponsor your visa application. 

However, this is a much more difficult option, and it may be better to first explore a State Sponsorship on the basis of receiving such a job offer, as each State and Territory has a special allocation of 500 visa placements which entitles them to offer sponsorship for any occupations not on their state sponsorship lists.

It's a very difficult time for anyone looking to emigrate to Australia. While it's important to have a realistic understanding of the current changes being made, please take all news stories and general rumours regarding migration changes with a grain of salt. What we recommend is that all applicants stay calm, take the time to understand the options available and, if necessary, move swiftly to take action.

Also, please understand that Visa Bureau will not be able to provide details regarding processing timelines for any specific visa application, as we are not privy to this information. However, we will do our best to answer other questions with the information and experience we have available.

- Lauren Mennie is the Casework Department Manager for the Australian Visa Bureau.

Visa Bureau takes no responsibility and cannot be held accountable for action taken as a result of any information or comment provided on this blog, and we recommend that you always seek a number of opinions before making a decision regarding your migration or visa application. Please refer to the Visa Bureau terms of use for more information.

Free flights to Australia: signs of tourism innovation or economic emergency?

by Tom 3/13/2009 9:40:00 AM

Is Tourism Australia starting to get desperate?  As reported yesterday on the Australian Visa Bureau, international tourists could be offered free flights to Australia in a bid to counter-act the downturn in Australian tourism.

Essentially, the proposed plan (titled the "Mayday Project") would involve visitors being given free return flights to Australia by Tourism Australia, with the proviso being that they promise to spend a certain amount of money within Australia while visiting.

Independent Tourism Holdings director Steve Cusworth is steering the project, but he won't meet with Australian government representatives and key tourism industry names until next week.  However, it's another example of the Australian tourism board looking to innovative new ways to combat the ever-newsworthy global economic crisis. 

After the roaring success of the 'best job in the world' promotion by Tourism Queensland, it seems that going beyond the usual tourism campaigns is the route to success for marketing the land Down Under.

However, that's not to say they don't face a challenge. International tourism to Australia saw a drop of 8.5 per cent in 2008, and even though the country routinely tops traveller's lists as the destination they're keenest to visit, it's far from the most economically friendly destination for Western tourists.  With subsidised airfares though, it's fair to say that Australia would be an awfully more attractive proposition. 

However, assuming that tourists taking advantage of the deal, they'll still be required to spend a certain amount while on their travels.  The current amount being bandied about is AUD $5,000.00 (approx. £2350.00), but what is there to spend it on?  

Assuming you don't have any interest in enjoying the too-many-to-list resorts, activities, tours, restaurants and shopping experiences that make Australia such a great place to visit on an Australian holiday visa, here's a quick guide to a few easy ways you could get that cash out your wallet and into the Australian economy!

Need to spend 5,000 Aussie dollars in a hurry?  Why not buy...

  • 78,000 teabags;
  • 13,390 eggs;
  • 1,240 loaves of bread;
  • 4,760 pints of milk;
  • 1,450 Big Macs;
  • 166 copies of Baz Luhrmann's 'Australia' on DVD; OR
  • 760 pints of draught beer in an Aussie pub (or 970 shots of whiskey).

So, even though they've not kicked off the flights promotion yet, you'll be well prepared to meet the minimum spend requirement if and when they do. Just pace yourself if you take the pub option though, or distribute your hundreds of drinks amongst the rest of the pub's patrons; less risk of liver failure, and you're guaranteed to make a few friends!

- Tom Blackett is the Online Editor for the Australian Visa Bureau 

Visa Bureau takes no responsibility and cannot be held accountable for action taken as a result of any information or comment provided on this blog, and we recommend that you always seek a number of opinions before making a decision regarding your migration or visa application. Please refer to the Visa Bureau terms of use for more information.