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Changes to Visa Program

On July 1 2012, the Australian Government introduced widespread changes to the skilled migration visa program.

The application process for skilled migration visas was changed and new visa classes were introduced.


The Department of Immigration and Citizenship introduced an online visa application facility, known as SkillSelect, on July 1 2012. SkillSelect is designed to more closely examine the skills and qualifications of applicants to ensure that visas are granted to people who work in areas where Australia has specific skills shortages. The department also claims that SkillSelect will reduce the time to process visa applications.

Under the SkillSelect system, applicants must firstly lodge an Expression of Interest, which includes the points-based assessment used in the old system. Applicants must nominate an occupation from the Skilled Occupation List (SOL). Do not submit an Expression of Interest until you have completed an English language test, skills assessment, or job ready program.

Applicants are responsible for the costs of language tests and skills assessments, and all applications must be submitted via the SkillSelect website. It is possible to apply for more than one class of visa on the same Expression of Interest.

If the applicant’s circumstances change after submitting the Expression of Interest, details should be immediately updated on the SkillSelect website. Should the applicant be later invited to lodge a visa application and the information does not match that in the Expression of Interest, the application will likely be rejected. Alternatively, when the information on the SkillSelect website is current, it may improve the chances of being granted an invitation to apply for a visa. KEEP IT UP-TO-DATE!

Visa Application

If the applicant’s Expression of Interest is successful, he/she will be invited to submit a visa application. Keep in mind, meeting the minimum points requirement does not mean that an applicant will automatically receive an invitation. Only the highest-ranking applicants within the quota for a particular visa will receive an invitation.

The number of available visas in each subclass varies according to planning levels, which are recalculated every year. Between July 1 and October 31 2012, 4,500 invitations to apply for a skilled migrant visa were issued through SkillSelect.

Applicants cannot see where they have been ranked, but will receive a copy of their points tally/score. Unfortunately, there is no right of appeal if an applicant’s Expression of Interest is unsuccessful.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship publishes the lowest points tallies for invitations to apply for visas on its website. Applicants can gauge their likelihood of success in future rounds from this.

The invitation to submit a visa application is not a guarantee that a visa will be granted. The applicant must first prove that the claims made in the Expression of Interest are true. The score during the actual visa assessment must be equal to or greater than the score that was calculated from the applicant’s Expression of Interest. False claims will result in the immediate cancellation of the application.

Further information on SkillSelect is available on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s blog.

Changes to Visa Subclasses & Applications

Three new subclasses of skilled visa were introduced by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship on July 1 2012. Some existing visa subclasses were discontinued. The new visa subclasses are:

Skilled Independent (subclass 189)

The 189 visa is an independent permanent skilled visa. It is for people without an employer or family sponsor, or state or territory government nomination.

Skilled Nominated (subclass 190)

The 190 visa is for those with a state or territory government nomination. The usual age and English language requirements still apply.

State or territory government nomination can either be secured from a particular government agency before the applicant lodges an Expression of Interest, or an Expression of Interest can be submitted with a request for sponsorship by a particular state or territory government.

When applying for the 190 visa, state and territory governments and their associated employers, as well as the Department of Immigration and Citizenship will have access to your personal information.

Skilled Regional (subclass 489)

The 489 visa is a provisional visa for people who have been nominated by a state or territory government or a family member. Under the conditions of the subclass 489 visa, the holder must live and work in a specified regional area for their first four years in Australia.

Once the four-year provisional period expires, the holder of a 489 visa can apply for a permanent 887 visa. Applicants must meet points, age, and English language requirements.

Eligible regional/low population growth areas in Australia are listed on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship website.

The website also contains a list of the areas where your relatives must live in order for them to sponsor your visa application.

As with the 190 visa, applicants of the 489 visa who have been nominated by a state or territory government will have their personal information available to state and territory governments and their associated employers, in addition to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

General Changes

Under the changes to the system, the location of the applicant when they are invited to apply for a visa is no longer relevant i.e. they can be inside or outside of Australia. However, applicants should be aware that the Expression of Interest is not the same as a visa application, therefore no bridging visa is available while waiting for the Expression of Interested to be assessed.

Work experience and study in Australia are no longer eligibility requirements for certain visas however they will contribute to an applicant’s points when submitting an Expression of Interest. Many of the existing requirements for skilled visa applicants still apply. For example, applicants and their spouses must be under 50 years of age when applying, and must be competent English speakers.

With regard to age, applicants should be aware that points decrease as they get older. For example, for the 189, 190, and 489 subclasses, applicants receive the maximum of 30 points if they are aged between 25 and 32, however, this reduces to 25 points from 33 to 39, and 15 points from 40 to 44, and zero points from 45 to 49.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship defines ‘competent’ English as “an International English Language Test System (IELTS) score of at least six in each of the four components of the IELTS test; or at least B in the Occupational English Test (OET); or being a citizen and passport holder of the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland or the USA.”

Although IELTS 6/OET B is considered as a competent standard of English by the Australian Government, it does not attract any points in the visa application process. To gain points towards a visa application, applicants must have ‘Proficient English’ (IELTS 7/OET B), which is worth 10 points, or ‘Superior English’ (IELTS 8/OET A), which will gain the holder 20 points.

Family members of skilled visa applicants must also have an acceptable level of English.