As of 1 January 2009, the Commonwealth Government made changes to the skilled migration program. The new measures were the result of Australia's changing economic needs, including forecasts for higher unemployment, and were designed to ensure that the skilled migration stream continued to meet the needs of industry in the new economic climate.
The new changes affect all current visa applications falling within the skilled migration program. This includes applications in the final stages of processing, even where the government has requested character and health clearances. It is anticipated that the changes will result in longer visa processing times.
The changes impact the number of places in the skilled migration program, as well as how applications will be given priority. In particular, the number of places in the 2008-2009 skills stream migration program will be reduced from 133,000 to 115,000. In recent years, the skilled stream represented about two-thirds of the entire migration program. Once the number of places has been filled, no further visa grants can occur until the next program year. As part of this reduction, the Commonwealth Government has also introduced caps on specific visa categories within the skilled stream. For example, the total number of business skills visas has been capped at 7,500 places.
In addition to decreasing the number of available visas, the Commonwealth Government also introduced changes to how permanent applications will be given priority.
First preference will be given to employer-sponsored permanent migration applications, where the employer sponsors a skilled migrant for a specific job which cannot be filled locally. This program requires employers to formally sponsor an applicant for migration purposes, not simply offer someone a position.
Secondary priority will be given to applicants nominated by state and territory governments seeking to meet critical skill shortages in their jurisdiction. Each state and territory compiles its own skill shortage list and they can nominate applicants who have an occupation on their list. In addition, each state and territory may also sponsor up to 500 visa applicants and their families who do not have occupations on the relevant skills shortage list.
Third preference will be given to applicants in occupations identified on the Critical Skills List. As of 16 March 2009, the Commonwealth Government updated the Critical Skills List. This list is relevant to applicants who are seeking to migrate under the skilled migration program who are not sponsored by an employer or nominated by a state or territory government. Construction and manufacturing trades have now been removed from the Critical Skills List. The list is predominantly limited to medical professionals, engineers, and information technology professionals. If an occupation has been removed from the list, it no longer qualifies for priority processing.
Fourth preference will be given to occupations on the Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL). Like the Critical Skills List, the MODL includes medical professionals, engineers and information technology professionals, but it also includes a large number of trades (for example, bakers, cooks, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, etc.). This list is reviewed twice per year and may be changed at any time. Where a nominated occupation is on the MODL either at the time an application is lodged or assessed, the applicant will be eligible for additional points on the General Skilled Migration Points Test.
Applications not falling in any of the above categories will be given the lowest processing priority.