1 July will see a number of changes to the General Skilled Migration program - for instance:
- The maximum age for the Skilled Independent Subclass 189 visa will be reduced from 49 to 44
- A new permanent residence pathway for NZ citizens will be introduced
- The skilled occupations lists are likely to be reviewed
- Occupational ceilings will be released
- State Migration Plans will reopen
This article goes through each of these changes and explains the likely consequences for applicants.
Changes to Age Limit for Skilled Independent Subclass 189 Visas
The maximum age for General Skilled Migration is currently 49. For the Skilled Independent Subclass 189 visa, this will be reduced to 44 from 1 July.
At this stage, none of the following visa types will be affected by the change:
- Skilled Nominated Subclass 190 - maximum age 49
- Skilled Regional Provisional Subclass 489 - maximum age 49
- The new NZ Citizen stream of subclass 189 - no age limit
According to Department of Immigration figures, only around 1% of applicants for the 189 subclass are between 45 and 49 at present. Whilst the overall impact on program numbers is small, for people between 45 and 49 the effect will be significant because the age limit for permanent employer sponsored is also being reduced to 44.
NZ Citizen Pathway
A permanent residence pathway for New Zealand citizens who have lived and worked in Australia for at least 5 years will be introduced from 1 July 2017.
The pathway will be implemented as a stream within the Skilled Independent Subclass 189 visa. The NZ citizen stream will be significantly easier to qualify for than the traditional 189 subclass, and in particular:
- No skills assessment, English language test, points test or SkillSelect invitation will be required
- No age limit
- Concessions on the health requirement
- Small initial application fee
The Australian government estimates that 60-70,000 New Zealanders may be eligible for the new stream. This may mean that fewer places are available for applicants in the points tested stream. This in turn may affect the occupational ceilings for skilled migration, and result in higher points being required for an invitation through SkillSelect.
Revision of Skilled Occupations Lists
There are a number of occupations, mainly in the engineering sector, which are on the MLTSSL but not the STSOL. This is unusual and we expect these occupations to be candidates for removal.
The Department of Education maintains a list of "Flagged Occupations". These could also be considered for removal, but based on previous years, only a few flagged occupations are removed each year.
On the other hand, the changes to employer sponsorship announced on 18 April have resulted in restrictions on sponsoring staff for permanent residence or longer-term 457 visas, unless the occupation is on the MLTSSL. There have also been some unexpected occupations removed from the STSOL (eg Human Resources Advisor, and many science and engineering occupations).
We expect Australian business groups to lobby for critical occupations to be added to the MLTSSL and STSOL. This would also be good for applicants for General Skilled Migration in any of the occupations which might be added.
Occupational Ceilings to be Released
Occupational ceilings play a very important part in managing the General Skilled Migration program. They give a maximum number of EOI invitations which can be issued to Skilled Independent Subclass 189 and Skilled Regional Provisional (Family Sponsored) Subclass 489 applicants.
In the last few years, it has become more competitive for people in popular occupations in the accounting, IT and certain engineering specialisations. If the occupational ceilings stay the same or are reduced, we expect it to become even more competitive. This will mean higher points scores may be required for an invitation.
State Migration Plans Reopen
Many states have either closed their state nomination programs or restricted them significantly - examples include Queensland, Western Australia and ACT. Others have reached quotas for popular occupations.
Most states will restart their state migration plans from July. For some states, ACT and South Australia in particular, many occupations fill very quickly after the program reopens. Applicants should make sure that they are ready to lodge for state nomination as soon as possible after they reopen to avoid disappointment.
The 1 July changes are likely to make it more difficult to qualify for General Skilled Migration. Particularly for those affected by the decrease in the age limit, applying before 1 July will be advisable if at all possible.
We expect that the Skilled Independent program will be more competitive in 2017-18 - this makes looking at alternative options such as state nominated or employer sponsored visas more important.