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Australian visa application charges set to rise by 20 per cent

by Tony 04/06/2009 14:36:00

One of the changes announced in the Australian Government’s 2009/2010 budget statements is that the Government will increase a number of Australian visa application charges by 20 per cent.

Changes in visa application charges are not unusual; these charges are reviewed by the Australian Government on July 1 every year in order to include the increase by the Consumer Price Index (CPI).  This typically results in skilled Australian visa application charges increasing by between AU$40 to AU$60 on an annual basis in recent years.

However, due to the global financial crisis and a change in economic circumstances they have now made the announcement that a number of visa application charges will instead see a 20 per cent increase. While there has been no confirmation from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) as to exactly which visa classes will be affected, we are predicting that the increase will apply to the skilled visa application charges.

A 20 per cent increase would result in the skilled visa application fee going from AU$2,105 to approx. AU$2,525; a substantial amount more than the typical price increase, should it take effect.

A concrete decision as to which visa application charges the price increase will apply to should be expected from the government shortly, but until we have more information, we are going to be advising all our clients to lodge and pay for their visa application BEFORE July 1, 2009 (if possible).

- Tony Coates is a Migration Caseworker 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.

Employer sponsored Australian visas eliminated for regional industry

by Tony 15/05/2009 12:47:00

It's never a dull moment in the world of Australian visas, as further changes to the employer sponsored (subclass 457) visa program came into effect today (15th of May, 2009).

The changes saw the removal of some occupations from the standard sponsorship arrangements for regional based employers. The occupations affected by this change include all occupations listed under Major Groups 5 to 7 on the Australian Standard Classification of Occupations (ASCO), which includes occupations in the tourism, clerical and agricultural industries.

As a result, the only way for regional employers to now sponsor workers in the removed occupations is through a Labour Agreement. This is an agreement that must be formed with both the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR).

This is the second major reform to the 457 visa program to be implemented in recent weeks, and it follows the increase in the English language requirement on April 14.

While DIAC say they want to allow regional employers to be able to employ temporary migrants in these less-skilled occupations, they've also clearly made the decision to ensure that any influx of migrants doesn't undermine employment opportunities for locally trained workers.

The Labour Agreements are designed to provide a means for industries experiencing skill shortages to bring in foreign workers, while also ensuring that the recruitment of migrants doesn't affect the long-term improvement of employment opportunities for Australians. However, there has been increased rigour applied to the consideration of any request made for a Labour Agreement.

Commenting on the changes, a departmental spokesperson said: "This change will ensure employers using the 457 visa program to gain access to these occupations satisfy all their obligations under the program, including those on training."

This isn't the first time that DIAC have made changes to Australian visas to force the regional sponsorship of an occupation through the Labour Agreement system, as they have done the same thing previously with Truck Drivers (due to specific concerns with that industry). However, that was limited to just one occupation; today's changes now mean that all occupations under Major Groups 5 to 7 on the ASCO can only be recruited from overseas by means of a successful Labor Agreement, meaning the impact on the number of Australian visas granted to employer sponsored workers could be significant.

- Tony Coates is a Migration Caseworker 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.

New Australian Budget slashes skilled migration intake

by Tony 12/05/2009 14:46:00

The 2009-10 Australian Budget was released today, which came with the announcement that the 2009-10 Australian skilled migration program has been slashed by a further 6,900 places. As a result, the skilled migration intake now stands at 108,100 places for the next year; over 25,000 places less than the migration program initially set as part of the 2008-09 Budget.

The news shouldn't come as much of a surprise, considering the pressure the Australian Government has been under recently to focus on securing 'Australian jobs for Australians' and make migration cuts in this time of economic strife. Even though March saw the 2008-09 skilled migration program capped to 115,000 places, further reductions seemed inevitable.

In addition to the cutback in places, the Government also announced that the English language level required for trades-related occupations would be increased. Previously, skilled visa applicants in trades occupations who were NOT passport holders of the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada or New Zealand were required to score at least 5.0 out of 9.0 in each of the 4 competencies (listening, reading, writing and speaking) of an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test. However, from 1 July 2009, these same applicants must now score a higher score of at least 6.0 out of 9.0 in each of the 4 competencies.

The core message of the 2009-10 skilled migration program seems to be that the changes implemented earlier this year are here to stay. I refer specifically to the emphasis put on government-sponsored visa subclasses over the independent alternatives, as applicants for the Skilled- Sponsored (subclass 176, State) visa will continue to be fast-tracked and this subclass will remain uncapped.

The CSL (Critical Skills List) will also remain in place for those people seeking to migrate to Australia without a sponsor, but no further occupations have been added or removed.

The hardest thing to predict will be the processing timeframes for applicants who are not state-sponsored or applying under a CSL-listed occupation. For the two lowest priority groups (i.e. applicants who are applying under an occupation listed on the MODL (Migration Occupation in Demand List) and applicants who are not MODL-listed and are applying for an independent or family-sponsored visa), I would expect to see some movement with these cases come 1 July 2009.

Unfortunately, applicants in these groups will still have their applications under the threat of being suspended until July 2010, especially if there is an abundance of applications that are state-sponsored and/or CSL-listed. Should this backlog of low priority applications grow too high, we should be prepared for such significant changes as the removal of occupations from the MODL and possibly even the visa subclass pass marks being raised.

So, while processing times might look bleak for low priority groups currently, I would urge that anyone who would fall into one of these lower priority groups to apply for their visa now, as their continued eligibility under the Australian skilled migration program cannot be guaranteed.

- Tony Coates is a Migration Caseworker 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.

New Australian skilled migration list changes announced

by Tony 07/05/2009 11:28:00

A new Australian Skilled Occupation List (SOL) has been announced that will take effect from 15th May, 2009. No occupations have been added or removed, but there has been a technical change that could affect the Australian skilled migration process for applicants in certain trades occupations.

All Australian skilled migration applicants are required to have their skills acknowledged and approved by a skills assessing body. From the 15th of May, workers in a number of key trades occupations will now have an additional assessing body to choose to be assessed by, but only if they are NOT resident in a recognised country.

Before, applicants who were NOT resident in a recognised country could only be assessed by TRA (Trades Recognition Australia). However, the assessing body VETASSESS (Vocational Education Training and Assessment Services) has now been approved as a co-assessing body for these applicants in the following trades:

Please understand that it is only applicants who are NOT resident in one of the 'recognised countries' who will be eligible to be assessed by either VETASSESS or TRA (Trades Recognition Australia).  Residents of the UK, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the Philippines will not be able to have their skills assessed by TRA and must instead be assessed by VETASSESS as usual.

While this change might seem slight, it has the potential to have a very profound effect on the Australian skilled migration process for a number of applicants. 

For example, before 15th May 2009, an electrician, not resident in one of the recognised countries, who lacks the required formal qualifications to get through Pathway A, B or C with the TRA, but has evidence of at least 4 years training, would be forced to apply to TRA through the only other TRA option - Pathway E. This can be an expensive and lengthy process, as it requires that the applicant undergo a workplace assessment with an Australian Registered Training Organisation (RTO) and obtain a relevant AQF Certificate III.

From 15th May 2009 though, that same electrician will now have the option to apply to have their skills assessed with VETASSESS. This will require that they travel to the UK (or other recognised country) to complete a practical assessment, but avoids the necessity of applying to the TRA and could save time and money.

Please note though, there is no change to the skills assessment process for residents of the UK and residents of other recognised countries, as VETASSESS remains the only assessing body they are eligible for.

My personal view is that this change was pushed for by VETASSESS, as they are probably not getting the number of applicants they initially expected. Whether VETASSESS have plans to organise practical assessments in other countries remains to be seen – I presume it will depend on the demand.

A definite possibility would be for VETASSESS to arrange for the skills assessments to be undertaken in Australia. This would then allow all temporary residents of Australia to use them as the assessing body for these trades, and also allow overseas residents of non-recognised countrie to travel to Australia especially for the assessment.

- Tony Coates is a Migration Caseworker 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.

Important changes to the English language requirements for nurses applying for an Australia visa

by Tony 30/04/2009 18:00:00

Last week saw a very important announcement made by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Council (ANMC). ANMC is the body that assesses whether the skills of internationally-qualified nurses are sufficient to be eligible for an Australia visa, and the news regarded changes to the English language requirements placed on all ANMC assessment applicants.

There are English language requirements as part of the Australian visa basic requirements set by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), but we were alerted to the following recent addition to the 'Frequently Asked Questions' section of ANMC's website:

"CHANGES TO ENGLISH LANGUAGE TESTING REQUIREMENTS AS OF 1 JULY 2009 FOR ALL INTERNATIONALLY-QUALIFIED NURSES AND MIDWIVES

As of 1 July 2009, all internationally-qualified nurses and midwives applying for assessment to the ANMC under the general skilled migration scheme will be required to complete an English proficiency test. New Zealand registered nurses and midwives are exempt from providing English proficiency under the Trans Tasman Mutual Recognition Act 1997.

A pass level of 7 in all four bands of the IELTS Academic test or a B level in all four bands of the OET will be required in one sitting. The test will be valid for a period of two years."

What does this mean for a nurse applying for an Australia visa?

Essentially, this announcement means that all nurses applying through the ANMC will be required to complete an academic English language test before lodging their skills assessment UNLESS they lodge before 1 July 2009.

From 1 July 2009, all ANMC applicants will be required to demonstrate proficient English language abilities by completing an academic English language test. Regardless of how confident an applicant is in their English skills, the IELTS test can be a very demanding process. Failure to reach the required standard could significantly affect an applicant's visa timescale, and even their eligibility to migrate to Australia.

We've taken the step of encouraging all our clients to submit their application as quickly as possible, as if they are able to submit your application to ANMC before 1 July 2009, then this announcement will NOT affect them.

Provided an applicant supplies their compiled assessment documents to ANMC in time and it satisfies their requirements, then there is no reason why they would not be able to lodge their application for assessment before the cut-off date of 1 July 2009.

What happens to ANMC applicants who do not make the 1 July 2009 deadline?

Should an ANMC applicant lodge their application for assessment AFTER 1 July 2009, they will be required to demonstrate proficient English language abilities. This can be demonstrated by either achieving a score of 7.0 out of 9.0 in all four competencies (reading, writing, speaking and listening) of the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) Academic test or achieving a B level in all four bands (reading, writing, speaking and listening) of the OET (Occupational English Test).

Generally, we would recommend that clients complete an academic IELTS test because it is more widely recognised as an English proficiency test. Additionally, there are many IELTS testing centres across the country, and it is the English proficiency test that we are most familiar with. More information on IELTS is available at their website (www.ielts.org).

However, as I said earlier, we hope to avoid the necessity of an academic IELTS test for our clients by having their applications for ANMC assessment ready before the cut-off date. 

If you are a qualified nurse and wish to take advantage of the current ANMC requirements (i.e. avoid having to do an English language test), we advise that you begin the migration process ASAP.  The best first step is to complete the Australian visa assessment that will give you an honest and accurate assessment of your eligibility according to the skilled migration program

- Tony Coates is a Migration Caseworker 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.

Are chefs and cooks on a temporary Australian work visa up for the chop?

by Tony 07/04/2009 12:15:00

After an extensive review in 2008, changes have been announced to the Temporary Business - Long Stay (subclas 457) Australian work visa.  The main changes involve the introduction of far stricter demands on the English language ability of applicants, which looks set to severely affect the thousands of tradespersons who have very little English language ability who are currently working in Australia on the subclass 457 Australian work visa.

The most obvious losers will be the Asian restaurants that employ workers in the occupation of Chef (ASCO: 3322-11) and Cook (ASCO:4513-11), where there is a strong argument that English language ability is not so important in the competent performance of their duties. 

As a result of these changes, it's highly likely that we'll see an increase in the demand for skilled Asian cooks and chefs who do have reasonable English language skills, although affected restaurants will still find difficulties securing an Australian work visa through the conventional skills pathway as another change in requirements is the introduction of a formal skills assessment.  Currently, TRA (Trades Recognition Australia) are the only relevant skills assessment body for the above occupations, and the majority of Asian cooks and chefs would be unable to be approved through this body without undertaking a workplace assessment.

Asian restaurants aren't the only Australian employers who are going to find it a lot more difficult to sponsor overseas workers on an Australian work visa through the 457 visa pathway. The onus is now on the employers to clearly identify and evidence the benefit to Australia and also show that local Australian workers are given employment opportunities ahead of overseas workers.

For your information, below are the 7 recently announced changes in full:

  1. The indexation of the minimum salary level (MSL) for all new and existing 457 visa holders by 4.1% on 1 July 2009, in line with all employees’ total earnings last year as reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This ensures that the wages of overseas workers keep pace with local wages.
  2. The implementation of a market based minimum salary for all new and existing 457 visa holders from mid September 2009, to ensure overseas workers are not exploited and local wages and conditions are not undermined (a key recommendation of the Deegan Review).
  3. Increasing the existing minimum language requirement from 4.5 IELTS to 5 IELTS for 457 visa applicants in trade occupations and chefs, to address concerns about the exploitation of workers from non-English speaking countries and align the 457 visa English language standard with the permanent sponsored visa for trades’ occupations.
  4. Progressively introducing formal skills assessment from 1 July 2009 for 457 visa applicants from high risk immigration countries in trade occupations and chefs.  The Government will consult with stakeholders in finalising an assessment framework that reflects Australian standards and meets the expectations of Australian workplaces.
  5. Introducing a requirement that employers seeking access to the 457 visa program have a strong record of, or demonstrated commitment to, employing local labour and non-discriminatory employment practices. This will help address concerns that some employers may discriminate against local labour in hiring overseas workers.
  6. The development of training benchmarks to clarify the existing requirement on employers to demonstrate a commitment to training local labour.
  7. The extension of the labour agreement pathway to all ASCO 5 – 7 occupations, to ensure that employers using the 457 visa program to access these occupations satisfy obligations on local training and employment.

The full impact of the changes are yet to be seen, but in their current form, they could severely limit the options available to many Australian employers looking to fill skills shortages by means of a 457 Australian work visa.

- Tony Coates is a Migration Caseworker 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.